Singaporeans should work hard to change attitudes of race bias for PM: Senior minister

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Singapore, Jun 26 (PTI) Singaporeans should work hard to change attitudes of race bias in their choice for a prime minister, according to a senior leader here who said he would look forward to the day when Singapore has a premier from the minority community/race.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said a Singaporean of a minority race who wants to be prime minister should be aware of the attitudes and realities on the ground.

'The IPS (Institute of Policy Studies) surveys do show that a significant proportion of Singaporeans are more comfortable with a prime minister of their own race. This cuts across Singaporeans across different ethnic groups,' Wong said.

'This is what the survey indicates; I wish it were not so, but the survey results are as they are,' he said.

He added that such attitudes should not be accepted.

'We should instead work very hard to change them,' The Straits Times quoted Wong as saying at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

Wong's remarks come on the heels of a spate of racial and religious incidents in recent weeks, which have sparked a debate on Singapore's multicultural identity.

During Friday's dialogue, moderator Shashi Jayakumar of RSIS asked the minister, 'Why can't an individual from a minority race be the PM? Doesn't this run against the grain of meritocracy, as we understand it?' Wong replied, 'Anyone in Singapore who wants to be prime minister will have to connect with voters and mobilise Singaporeans and lead the party to win elections. This applies to anyone regardless of race.' In the 2016 study, 98 per cent of Chinese respondents said they preferred a Chinese prime minister. Just over half would accept a Malay prime minister, while six in 10 would be fine with an Indian one.

Malay and Indian respondents were also less accepting of a prime minister of another race than of one from their own.

'A minority who wants to be prime minister should be aware of these attitudes,'said Wong. 'It doesn't mean that he, or for that matter she, can't be a prime minister. But these are the realities on the ground.' He added: 'I certainly would look forward to the day when Singapore has a minority prime minister. I would welcome that.' Wong also said the value of race-based policies such as the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other (CMIO) classification model, as well as the Housing Board's Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP), should be recognised.

But he noted these were not set in stone, and that the government would continue to review them.

Singaporeans have been debating about the top executive power position going to a non-Chinese though the city-state has had Malay, Eurasian and Indian-origin presidents.

As of June 2020, Singapore's population was 5.7 million. The Chinese community accounts for 76.2 per cent of the population followed by Malays (15 per cent), Indians (7.4 per cent) and others. PTI GS NSA AKJ NSA

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