The Minority Rebranding Exercise – Tokenism Or Recognition?


By: B Goode

In case you didn’t know because you were all too distracted by The Ah Mu and Ah Chee Show, there was something more hallowed happening somewhere else. It is called The Constitutional Commission On The Review Of The Elected Presidency which unfortunately is fast becoming a Minority Rebranding Exercise.

It wasn’t the fault of the honourable commission members but at some point, some of the argument put forward by the participants got me shaking my head.

Take for example the team from Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) represented by Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director, and Mr Tan Min-Wei, researcher.

Dr Koh started off by saying that a candidate’s track record, instead of his or her race, should be considered during the Presidential Election. Specifying that a certain ethnic minority should be president is against Singapore’s multicultural ethos and meritocracy and it could be considered tokenism.

But then her colleague Mr Tan suggested that the process of applying to be a presidential candidate be made simpler so more minority candidates would consider running. He added that deposits for minority candidates could also be eliminated.

Seriously? On one hand you wanted the elected President to be based on merit. But on the other hand you wanted the process to be made simpler for the minority candidates and for the deposits for them to be eliminated. Why?

Is it because you think that the minorities are simple-minded and stupid? And also because deep inside your heart you know that they are going to lose that’s why you want their deposits eliminated? Or you think that they are poor?

And they were not the only ones brandishing the word `tokenism’ as if it would make them looked smarter.

Since when is it considered alright to refer to the minorities as tokens? And since when does tokenism become a bad word?

In a fledgling multi-racial democracy like Singapore, where race still plays an important part in politics, having constitutional safeguards to ensure the continued representation of minorities in elected offices is not tokenism. Rather, it is a recognition of the important contribution of the minorities in the society. And the recognition that if based only on merited popular votes, the chances of them losing is higher than someone from the majority.

Anyone who thinks that Singapore’s political landscape is devoid of racial undertones is either delusional or in a chronic state of denial.

Now is not the time to perform a minority rebranding exercise. The minorities in Singapore, as far as politics is concerned, need that little bit of help to ensure that their voices continued to be heard.

And oh by the way, my congratulations to a `token’ member,  Saiyidah Aisyah for being the first Singaporean rower to be eligible for the Olympics!


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