The Malay Presidency : The Brutal Truths


By: B Goode

PM Lee’s confirmation that 2017 will see a Malay President installed has caused a great schism not seen in Singapore since the 1988 inter-JC debate.  Amongst armchair critics that is. Like myself.

Both sides have valid reasons and concerns. And it is the type of issue where sitting on the fence seems like the most comfortable position to be.

When discussing racial issues in Singapore, it is best to walk gingerly on eggshells. But the problem with this is that misperceptions will tend to form thus further clouding the issue.  So at the risk of getting an invitation to coffee at the twin towers, allow me to try to list the brutal facts why it is necessary to have a Malay President.

Look away now if you are sensitive to truths.

A Malay will lose in a straight forward election fight with a Chinese. In a country where race is still a requisite in the NRIC and in most application forms for almost everything in life, racial preference is still prominent in society. Not to say that we are racist. Just because I prefer broccoli over asparagus doesn’t mean I’ll destroy every asparagus I see.

So in a country where 75% of the population is Chinese, in a straight fight between two equally qualified individuals, one of whom is a Chinese, the Chinese will almost always win.

The second truth is that there is a dearth of qualified Malays considering the out-of-this-world criteria set. In writing this article, I googled ` Singapore Malay personalities’ and I was returned a list of Malays most of whom have died. Those still living are either not qualified, or former and present Ministers.

So if you have a straight fight between a successful Chinese banker and a former Malay Minister, who do you think will win?

In short, considering the social/economic/political conditions in Singapore, without a helping hand, a Malay will never be a President for at least another 50 years.

We could argue that in the name of democracy and meritocracy, we should just let it be. If we are to have Chinese Presidents for generations to come, so be it. But politics is a funny old bitch. It might seem simple but it is not. In fact as Winston Churchill once said; politics is 99% perception, and 1% fact. Or as Trump might have said: politics is 99% bullshit.

The President Office has always been seen or touted as a reflection of the values of the country. Just because it has been given an extra responsibility as the keyholder of the country’s reserves does not alter this fact. The values of multi-racial, religious, culture are still required to be reflected in the highest office of the land. If there have not been a minority President for decades, the concept of multi-this-and-that will sound a little hollow.

But most importantly, if you look at the map, you will see that Singapore is just a little red dot smacked in the middle of the Malay archipelago. As I have argued before, Singapore draws its wealth and security from the giant states surrounding it simply because they allow us to do our own thing. Having a Malay President now and then will go a long way to assuage these countries that Singapore is not an anomaly to be seen with suspicion.

So yes I have to agree that having a Presidency reserved for the Malays every 5 terms or so is tokenism, is affirmative action and is a case of *kesian-punya-pasal. But it is necessary in the context of present day political and social circumstances in Singapore.

And what is wrong with having Halimah Yacob as a Malay President?

*kesian-punya-pasal – pity


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