Singapore: Unconvincing Regulation For Presidential Election – OpEd


With Singapore now set to elect its next President and the present President Mr. Tony Tan Keng Yam announcing his decision not to seek a second term, the stage is set for holding Presidential poll in Singapore under new amendment in law.

More confusion than clarity

Under the new amendment, there will be at least one Chinese, one Malay and one president who is either Indian or “other minority” within the course of six presidential terms, provided qualified candidates appear. After this amendment, the next President of Singapore should be of Malay ethnicity.

This above amendment with regard to the eligibility criteria based on ethnicity to contest in the Presidential poll is flawed and illogical . It is bound to provide more confusion than clarity and some may even think that this regulation may be viewed as laughing stock by observers around the world.

The lack of clarity in the amendment is highlighted by the fact that there is already animated discussions as to whether one of the candidates who wants to contest is “Malay enough,” since her father was Indian and mother Malay.

Singapore – Ultimate model of governance

Singapore is now one of the wealthiest economies in the world and Singapore form of governance has many admirers around the world .

After seeing the chaotic democracies in practice in many countries in Asia and other regions where the democratic form of governance has created bitterness and division among people on various lines , the sort of controlled democracy now practiced in Singapore is applauded by many, as the ultimate model of quality and fair governance.

Some people think that Singapore is governed like a corporate undertaking rather than like a society inhabited by people of different value systems and priorities .Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Singapore form of controlled democratic governance has provided overall benefits and the happiness index may be much higher amongst citizens in Singapore than people living in several other countries, whether having democracy or dictatorship.

While several people in the world seem to be viewing Singapore as a governance model, the amendment to the regulation for Singapore presidential election stipulating the ethnicity of the candidate is surprising .

Unconvincing explanation

The Prime Minister of Singapore has refuted the criticism about this new amendment and insisted that the stipulation based on ethnicity of President is not wrong, as it would give a representation and opportunity to people of different ethnicity who are citizens of Singapore.

The Prime Minister has further argued that there would be no dilution in the qualification criteria for anyone to become the President and by invoking this ethnicity based reservation, Singapore is only recognizing the fact that 74% of the population is of Chinese ethnicity, while 13% have Malay ethnicity and the balance 9% constituting Indians and others.

Flaw in the amendment

The flaw in the amendment and the gap in the explanation of Singapore Prime Minister is the fact that all citizens of Singapore are only Singaporeans and they cannot anymore be segmented as Chinese, Malays or Indians. A citizen of Singapore should have loyalty solely and exclusively for Singapore and must be emotionally involved with the cause and image of Singapore, clearly not being conscious of his ancestors belonging to some other country.

By unnecessarily and avoidably classifying citizens as of Chinese, Malay or Indian origin ,Singapore government has inadvertently introduced an element of conflict among the Singaporians by this short sighted classification.

Need to reverse the amendment

By and large, Singapore has been a very coherent society now and the government of Singapore has been governing the city state with great and robust understanding of the fact that Singapore is a multi cultural society due to historical reasons. The freedom given to the people to practice their religious faith and value system are admirable and praise worthy, which has ensured a very peaceful and prosperous Singapore that every Singaporean is proud of.

While the conditions and ground realities in Singapore are so progressive, why should there be a reminder to the citizens of their ethnicity of several decades back, when they have all now become full fledged Singapore citizens?

Even as the Presidential poll is so near, it is time that the Singapore government should reconsider this criteria for electing President based on ethnicity.

It is gratifying to note that Mr. Tan Cheng Bok, a former PAP member of the Parliament in Singapore is challenging this decision to reserve the appointment of next President based on ethnicity.

It would be gracious on the part of the Singapore Prime Minister to listen to the challenging arguments of Mr. Tan Cheng Bok and reverse his decision.

N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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