Minority PM issue: Let’s drop this ‘not ready’ nonsense

I’ve been following with interest the debate about the issue of having a Prime Minister coming from a minority ethnic group.

For me personally, the issue is quite black and white: I would vote for a leader based on the merit of his ideas, values and leadership qualities. But if it is a choice between two equally good candidates, one Chinese and the other from a minority race, I would likely vote for the minority because I feel it would reflect well on us as a colour-blind nation.

Some time back, I asked an older Chinese Singaporean if she would vote for a non-Chinese PM. She simply stated that whoever is PM would tend to champion the rights of his own race over other races. Whether this was her realist assessment or her personal prejudice, I don’t know. But I suspect it is indicative of the way a lot of people — and not just Singaporeans — think: If I’m from the majority race, a PM from my race will defend the rights of all Singaporeans, but a PM from other races will only take care of ‘his own people’.

Put another way, we the majority race always treat other races equally, but minorities only defend their own kind. This is flawed and self-righteous thinking.

Who is to say that a Chinese PM will not champion the rights of Chinese over other races? Many would argue that this is already happening. The discrimination of Malays in the armed forces and the disproportionate resources pumped into mono-ethnic SAP schools are prime examples.

Ultimately I am persuaded that it is not Singaporeans who don’t want a non-Chinese PM, but the PAP leadership which chooses their Secretary-General.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

17 thoughts on “Minority PM issue: Let’s drop this ‘not ready’ nonsense”

  1. Kinda agree wif the blogger…i don’t get it, why has the press been mulling over this issue ever since Obama got elected? At least american’s have woken up…wat about us? I thought we claimed to be a multiracial society…regardless of race, language or religion? It’s just a farce isn’t it…all this just to make SG look good in the eyes of the world. I personally feel it wont happen…at least not in the next 10 to 20 years…simply because ppl’s mentally hasn’t changed yet…singaporeans will still always be judgmental, be prejudice and not have a sense of neutrality. And it’ll probably get worst…40 over years of independence…nothing much has changed i guess…=(

  2. Why is it after 43 years of nation building, we are still Indians, Malays, Chinese and “others”, instead of Singaporeans? We are constantly told we need to maintain our own separate cultures. We are not allowed to take 2nd language other than our “mother tongue”. We are told we are not ready to not be racist about choosing our leaders. We are told that when we need help, we must go to our own kind (i.e., race-based self help groups). And oddly enough, a single culture is elevated above all the rest through SAP schools, which our former PM sent his son, the current PM, to attend. Then we ask ourselves how come we are still so racist?

  3. Dear Gerald Giam,

    Why are we still operating in racial mode ? Because the different races here, have different cultural practices, values, aspirations and so on.

    Can a Malay-Muslim become PM of Singapore today ? Absolutely NOT – especially in view of the rising tide of Islamism in this region ! Ask yourself honestly – will a Malay-Muslim PM uphold the political interests of the Chinese Non-Muslim majority – even if that means hurting Muslims from neighbouring countries ?

    Its all nice and fine to TALK about colour-blindness – but such an ideal remains a dream. We are a divided society. The Malays place a premium on Islamic matters. The Chinese have their own idiosyncracies and so on. It is this difference in culture and religion which divides our society.

    We are NOT fortress America where Obama is also a Christian sharing a largely similar culture as the White Americans. Singapore is surrounded by Muslim countries which view her with suspicion.

    Until such time when Malays are prepared to uphold the political interests of the Chinese Non-Muslim majority no matter what the consequence is – until then – do NOT hope for a Malay-Muslim PM.

    Best Regards
    Dr Syed Alwi

  4. Dr Syed Alwi – Gosh I thought readers were going to accuse me of being a self-hating China man. But you’ve taken it to another level!

    Of course if we are to ever have a minority-race PM, that person would be a centrist who appeals to voters across the racial spectrum. No Malay politician with Islamist leanings will ever reach a point where he commands confidence of the majority of the people and Parliament. Heck, even a Chinese chauvinist will never become PM.

  5. Dear Gerald,

    This is where you fail to understand the Malay-Muslim psyche, sociology and culture. The Malays place a very heavy emphasis on Islam. What happens when you put a Malay as PM and Malaysia and Indonesia begins to raise racial and religious issues so as to pressure him into making favourable decisions in other issues ?

    Finally – what is deemed to be a Malay with Islamist leanings – remains vague. Is a practicing Muslim who accepts the fact that Islam rejects secularism – an Islamist chauvinist ? And so on.

    You must first study Islam and the culture of the Malays to realise that most Malays HAVE Islamist leanings to begin with ! Islam is a way of life. It intrudes into each and every Muslim’s life in all possible manner.

    What about foreign policy ? And so on. Its very irresponsible and naive to think that you can spot an Islamist – based on hearsay and vague ideas.

    Best Regards
    Dr Syed Alwi

  6. And one more thing Gerald,

    If you are asking for a Malay PM with not much Islamic leanings – then you will NOT find any to begin with ! The Malays themselves do NOT want a Malay leader without Islamic credentials ! Islam is a pre-requisite among the Malays. Where have you been since 1999 ??

    Once again – you demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Malays.

    Best Regards
    Dr Syed Alwi

  7. This might be out of our issue today, but I needed this to be said.

    We muslims(malays) really put Islam as premium! Look around, what you see are hypocrites(I will however reframe from using Monafig). In the name of Islam we are killing each other around the world and making mockery of shariah by accepting new master(kowtowing to rulers) wishes instead of Allah.

    We muslims are a gang that cannot shoot straight today even among our own small communities(tribal mentality) let alone Islamic nations.How then can we be leaders and rulers?

    When Prophet(SAW), and Our calipates(r) were around, jews and christians and other religions and nations were living together and doing commerce. It can be done, somewhere after their return to Allah and today we have become lost in teaching and true way of life.

    You have your religion and I have my religion that doesn’t mean My religion is the only way or my race. Tolerance and acceptance is required.

    The psyche of muslim today! is not True Islamic psyche.


  8. Today I have perfect your religion, it is called Islam(paraphrase of translation, I am unable recall the exact phrase, no”” on translation of what Allah says in the Al Quran).

    Hence there is no and cannot be flaw in Al Quran or Prophet(SAW) teaching, ie in ISLAM or Islamic sunnah.

    However the muslims and their cultures cannot be said the same of. We who practices are bias toward ones own lusts and desires.

    What Islamic nations live in accordance with Islam? all poor yet rich natural resources, uneducated children, indonesia,afghan,sudan,palestine, saudi, etc.

    What is ‘Islamist learning!’?
    ‘most Malays HAVEIslamist leanings to begin with !’
    HOW MANY! Is it reality or fiction or misinterpretation or fear mongering?

    ‘Islam is a way of life.It intrudes into each and every Muslim’s life in all possible manner’.

    It is true that Islam is a way of life.
    however, How many of us live it? be truthful

    So malay PM can only thing is malays(muslims)are too busy living duniah sudah terbalik.

  9. Actually, the time will come.

    When Singaporeans are so, so tired and fed up with the Lees, anyone is a better candidate.

    Actually, all these talk about Muslims not being suitable… well, I am Chinese.

    I will have to say this … if any Muslim has a track record of being a good leader, despite his race, I am willing to give him that vote.

    Unfortunately, our country’s democratic system does not allow for candidates to show their true worth. In fact, it is demeaning the minorities by putting them in GRCs. Telling the world they are there to make up the colours. Tokenistic at best.

    Like in the US, if Obama fails (for whatever reasons), Americans can vote him out.

    I mean, that’s the beauty of the system. Like when we hire any employee, we can’t be 100% sure he will perform. There will have to be some hits and misses. We learn and the nation grows.

    Please don’t give me crap about Singapore going down the drain in less than 5 years under bad leadership. That’s bollocks.

    If a country’s systems are so fragile, it doesn’t say much of the current administration.

    In our current situation, I don’t even think race is an issue. It’s still the genes.

  10. gerald, after reading all the comments, it is true u lack the knowledge of what goes on in the global scale.
    you lack knowledge of how the various races, religious griups behave as well… you cud be digging your own grave when you say things like this…

    try migrating to ME(middle east) and see whether they allow you or not.. peng san man boy, peng san…

    color blind is not the issue here, human beings have human nature and also their own indoctrinated beliefs. do u really know themor jus judging by the surface?

  11. I don’t see what migrating to the middle east has got to do with this discussion. I’m not blind to the biases and prejudices of people, whether here or anywhere else. But we need to rise up above this, and not just throw up our hands and say “humans are like that, why bother”. I believe Singaporeans are at a stage where we can rise to this occasion, but it will take the correct leadership to inspire this. Unfortunately, the current leadership is wholly uninspiring.

  12. Gerald, wow this has been a long thread. I have to say I don’t fully agree with you here.

    I feel the leadership has enjoyed varying degrees, but on average, moderate success at striking a balance between individual ethnicities and a Singaporean identity, which is arguably a difficult thing to do. As a result we enjoy relative peace and quiet when compared with our neighbors. On the notion of a Chinese PM doing more right across races than an Indian, or Malay Muslim, or Eurasian would, as offensive, unjust and simply wrong an idea as it might be, does not mean it also isn’t true. And that’s just the reality of it.

    What I feel is that not only should we do something about that reality, we should think deep and hard about how we’re doing it. What is apparent to me about the leadership’s strategy s that it presents itself to the average Singaporean, as a little clinical, bland, formulaic, and starting to lose impact.

    Mutual acceptance, building a national identify and the softening of religious/political/ethnic barriers requires more than quizzing our kids in school about different ethnic festivals and holidays. It takes more than community pow-wows at your neighborhood CC. We need to seek out meaningful opportunities to study, work and live together in a very integrated way, without the biases of our parents generation. Generosity, charity, patience and most importantly time.

    Here’s a simplistic idea, and it starts with story. I remember a time in JC when we all had to learn the cha-cha dance for PE. I thought it was pretty boring/stupid and not much exercise, and a darn good excuse for PE teachers to be goofing off. When it came to picking a partner, I deliberately asked an Indian girl if she would like to dance with me, while all my Chinese friends either looked puzzled, or simply looked away. I don’t think I did the girl a favor, but what I did, I felt I did for everyone in the hall. Not surprisingly though, she was the only one to thank me afterwards. I thanked her too.

    Tell this story to a scholar-filled think-tank and they might say, well, maybe we should make it compulsory in schools to dance with a partner of a different race; or get the Indians to teach the Chinese and Malays how to dance like them or any permutation thereof….I have a dry taste in my mouth already….

    Another point I’d like to make is, we should talk about our biases, our little hang-ups about other races that we don’t like, instead of pretending that they don’t exist, but only to whisper rude jokes when the others are out of ear-shot. We should talk about our differences, understand why there are certain stereotypes, ask each other how things can change, and joke about what makes us, us! Humor can help, and if delivered and taken on a level field, it certainly shouldn’t hurt.

    It would be extremely arrogant of me, or anyone, of any race to claim to have the answer(s), the key I think, is to remain open, think hard and act smartly about these things. Open debate is good only if it results in something happening.

  13. Both SIngapore and Malaysia are considered elsewhere to be racist countries , a long way from being developed

  14. Dr Syed Ali remarked “If you are asking for a Malay PM with not much Islamic leanings – then you will NOT find any to begin with ! The Malays themselves do NOT want a Malay leader without Islamic credentials ! Islam is a pre-requisite among the Malays”

    Well I have to agree with Dr Syed Ali here. Why the Malays have come to this state? While other racial group have advance spiritually and politically, the malays are still stuck at the religious level. They have not move at all. I call this the Malay / Muslim psyche. Not until the Malays move away from this Malay Muslim Psyche, Malays in Singapore can never call themselves an advance racial group. All those media protrayal by the Malay Leaders about the advance of Malay/Muslim group are a laugh. If they can segregate and ignore the minority malays [ who are non muslim like me ] what make you think they would not do the same for the others? Think about it.

    Not until the Malays learn to accept that out there, there’s the Malay Christian, Malay Hindus, Malay Buddhist etc and able to stand beside them and embrace them as one people, Malays can never be considered as matured. They still have a long way to go… way way long.

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