Thoughts on PM’s Comments on Race

I must admit that I was a little shocked reading PM Lee’s comments that race is still a factor that determines voters’ preferences in Singapore, and that while we may have a non-Chinese Prime Minister one day, it’s not likely to happen soon.


First, comparing the American system and the Singapore one is like comparing apples and oranges. They are different. America has a Presidential system where the populace cast their vote for their candidate of choice (along with the unique feature of the electorate college voting structure to ensure that the voting is not controlled in the hands of population-heavy states). 



Singapore, on the other hand, has a parliamentary system, where the electorate votes for their Members of Parliament, and where the Prime Minister is selected by the Members of Parliament as the leader of the Party, or the “First amongst Equal”.


Hmm, does this mean that PAP party members who select the leader of their Party have an inherent racial bias? I sure hope not, because aren’t the men and women who passed the PAP’s stringent selection criteria those of great talent and integrity? And oh, that might not also gel well with the PAP’s government push to attract more foreign talent, regardless of color. But hey, what do I know? 😛


PS: Of course I am not stating the other obvious difference between the America and the Singapore system, i.e. voting in America is voluntary and you can be almost guaranteed to be able to cast your vote at least once in your lifetime if you choose to. In Singapore, voting is compulsory, but how many of us have voted, really? Perhaps PM Lee may be right. The non-Chinese Prime Minister is not going to happen very soon. 🙂 

PPS (updated 10 Nov): Wasn’t Singapore’s first Chief Minister in 1955, David Marshall, a Jewish man of Iraqi descent? 


(Extract)Non-Chinese PM? Possible, but not soon
(Straits Times, 10 November 2008)
By Zakir Hussain
Singapore may have a non-Chinese prime minister one day but that is unlikely to happen any time soon, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, four days after Americans elected their first black president.

Mr Lee said race is still a factor that determines voters’ preferences here, although he noted that attitudes have shifted.

He was replying to a question from Association of Muslim Professionals board member Yang Razali Kassim at a dialogue with 350 Malay grassroots and community leaders at the Grassroots Club.

Mr Yang Razali asked if, in the light of Mr Barack Obama’s win, Singapore was ready for a prime minister of a minority race, and specifically from the Malay-Muslim community.

Mr Lee said in reply: ‘It’s possible. It depends on how people vote, on who has the confidence of the population.’

‘Will it happen soon? I don’t think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments – who votes for whom, and what makes him identify with that person – these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it.’

However, he also acknowledged that attitudes towards race have shifted in the last two to three decades.

‘Attitudes have shifted because English provides more of a common ground, because the new generation is better educated and they can see that there are successful people of all races,’ he said.

‘But to reach a position where everybody is totally race-blind and religion-blind, I think that’s very difficult. You will not find it in any country in the world.’



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