Singapore

Race issues discussed at Pre-U Seminar

Students at the opening ceremony of the annual Pre-University Seminar yesterday did not hold back from asking the tough questions.

Temasek Polytechnic student Ashley Liao, who was among the 550 students from 34 institutions, asked Senior Minister of State for Education, and Communication and Information Janil Puthucheary about the need for an ethnically reserved presidential election.

Changes to the Presidential Elections Act was passed by Parliament in January, reserving the September contest for candidates from the Malay community.

The 19-year-old asked: "Do you think that it is problematic that we've had to make use of affirmative action in order to have representation in our presidential office?"

Dr Janil said Singapore will not need the racially reserved presidency when Singaporeans are race blind and all underlying related tensions no longer exist.

"If all those disappear, we will not need a racially reserved elections. The problem is that they are present. And we are worried that given that they are present, it would not be possible for a minority president to be directly elected."

He added that the racially reserved, or ethnically reserved presidency, is "not a nice solution that we would wish on Singapore after 52 years of independence".

He added: "Wouldn't it be great if we never had to have it? But it's a marker of what we still have to solve. In my generation and yours."

Dr Janil said he believes that true harmony will not come when a minority candidate wins an open election. "It will come when he loses in an open election and everybody says it has nothing to do with his race, he just wasn't the best man."

The event ends on Thursday.

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