PM: We must constantly work at multiracialism
Addressing unhappiness over reserved election, PM says it was 'right thing to do'
Having a reserved presidential election was an unpopular move that would cost the ruling People's Action Party votes in the next general election.
"But I did it because I strongly believe... that this is the right thing to do," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a closed-door dialogue on Sept 23.
Noting there was "some unhappiness", he added: "People think we may be going backwards, towards racial politics.
"But actually, the reality is the opposite. We are making necessary changes to strengthen our multiracial system, in order to continue to progress as one united people."
It was the first time Mr Lee addressed the issue of the reserved election since Madam Halimah Yacob won in a walkover after two other candidates failed to qualify to stand.
The transcript of his remarks at the People's Association Kopi Talk dialogue, attended by about 500 grassroots leaders, was released yesterday.
Stressing that Singapore has yet to arrive at an ideal state of accepting people of different races, Mr Lee spoke of the importance of constantly working at multiracialism - something borne out of "very hard work, a lot of toil and sweat, and the gradual education and bringing together of people".
"There is nothing natural about where we are - multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive.
"We made it happen, and we have got to protect it, nurture it, preserve it, and never break it," he said.
It is precisely because of provisions and rules, such as the ethnic integration policy in Housing Board blocks, that Singapore has achieved racial and religious harmony, he pointed out.
Multiracialism is also what will hold us together in the event of a terror attack - not a matter of "if" but "when", said Mr Lee, adding that the Internal Security Department picks up one or two self-radicalised Singaporeans every month or two.
"Multiracialism by itself will not stop an attack. It can still happen because even if 99.99 per cent of Singaporeans believed in multiracialism, there would still be a handful who do not.
"But multiracialism will help us cope with the day after a terrible attack has happened - when people are in shock, in pain, and feeling angry and fearful," he said.
More than just sharing pineapple tarts, kueh dadar or murukku with neighbours, multiracialism has to be lived out daily.
"It is not just resonant rhetoric, or a warm, fuzzy feeling. We have to live it out daily, in little ways and big," said Mr Lee.
"It is about having colleagues and true friends from different races whom we laugh and cry with.
"It is about being able to accommodate one another and to work through our differences.
"It is about having the honesty to recognise that our multiracialism is not yet perfect, but having the courage and determination to take pragmatic steps to get there, step by step," he added.
Given the terror threat and a reserved election that has caused some unhappiness, political analysts contacted by The New Paper called Mr Lee's speech a crucial conversation to have.
TAKEN FOR GRANTED
SIM Global Education's associate lecturer Felix Tan said: "For so long, many have taken for granted the multi-ethnic multi-religious multiracialism that exists in our mix.
"This has even led to some academics labelling the Chinese majority here as having a 'Chinese privileged' mindset and attitude."
Stereotypes, if not corrected, will continue to "segregate and marginalise the community, leading to a fractured society", he said.
National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Sersaid Mr Lee's speech addresses a "prominent view" among those opposing the reserved election - that race does not matter in Singapore as it is already a multiracial society in reality, and not just an aspiration.
"It is also to reiterate a strong message to our neighbours that Singapore is working hard at achieving multiracialism - certainly not paying lip service to it," he said.
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