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Netizens flame PM Lee for asserting that the government is not playing “racial politics”

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Prime Minister ’s latest comments on the reserved Presidential Election 2017 have attracted much criticism online.

The PM made his remarks on “Race, Multiracialism, and Singapore’s Place in the World” at a closed door dialogue with about 500 grassroots leaders. The head of government shared his take on public unhappiness over the PE2017 which was only open for Malay candidates – a decision the PM called “necessary” to preserve the nation’s multiculturalism.

At the talk held on 23 Sept, organised by the People’s Association, PM Lee made the following points:

  1. The last PE was reserved because it is a “reality” that non-Chinese candidates know they do not stand a chance in presidential elections, all things being equal. Citing the 2011 Presidential Election where all 4 candidates were Chinese, he said: “Where were the Farid Khans and the Salleh Maricans? Why didn’t they come?… Because they knew that in an open election – all things being equal – a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance.”
  2. Singapore’s racial harmony and multiculturalism is a result of government policies such as the GRC system, racial quota for public housing, and strong action against extremists: “There is nothing natural about where we are – multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive. We made it happen, and we have got to protect it, nurture it, preserve it, and never break it.”
  3. The majority Chinese race must make other minority races feel welcomed and valued: “The younger ones have only known peace and harmony in Singapore, and it is very easy to believe that race does not matter anymore. But this is not so. We have to know our blind spots, and make a special effort to ensure our minority communities feel welcomed and valued in Singapore. The Chinese community particularly must make a special effort to make the minorities feel welcome in Singapore.”
  4. The reserved election is a “guardrail” to move Singapore to an “ideal state” where citizens of all races are “naturally and regularly” elected as President. He added that reserving PE2017 for Malays wasn’t a regression towards “racial politics”: “There was some unhappiness. I can feel that; you do not have to tell me. People think we may be going backwards, towards racial politics. But actually the reality is the opposite: We are making necessary changes to strengthen our multiracial system, in order to continue to progress as one united people. If we did nothing, it was very likely that we would not have had a Malay president for a very long time. After a while, the minorities in Singapore would start to feel left out, and understandably so. The Chinese majority might also become less sensitive to other races. This would weaken our sense of shared nationhood for all Singaporeans.”

The PM’s comments drew considerable flak from netizens who asserted that regular folks have never had a problem with race and that it is the government that is playing the race card:

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