Presidential elections are scheduled in Singapore for September 2017. As most are aware Singapore's next President must be ethnically Malay. The Parliament deemed it so through amendments to the Presidential Elections Act passed in February 2017. The changes also establish a mechanism for the state to determine the ethnic community to which each candidate belongs, i.e. Ms. Yacob and all other candidates for next month's elections must be certified 'Malay' before their candidacies are accepted.
To the relief of many Singaporeans Madam Halimah Yacob has decided to stand as a candidate for Singapore's next president. As a 50 percent Malay woman – her father was Indian and mother was Malay - it is likely Madam Yacob is 'sufficiently' Malay and will pass the government's 'Malayness' test. Hence, she is expected to be accepted as a Malay candidate. Indeed, it will be very inconvenient if she is deemed 'not sufficiently' Malay?
|Race and ethnicity are nebulous concepts and categorizing people into defined boxes can be an imprecise organizational tool|
The appropriateness of ethnicity criteria tests to evaluate an individual's race is one difficulty. However, for many the real problem is not determining a candidate's race; rather it is the idea that Singapore has seemingly sacrificed a long held belief in meritocracy at the altar of political expediency.
For the last five decades the government has preached the creed of meritocracy almost to the notion of fanaticism. Meritocracy trumped all else, including race based politics. The desire to maintain societal meritocracy was even a factor in Singapore's 1965 expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia.
Suddenly, however, meritocracy is no longer sacrosanct. On the contrary, the country's Constitution was amended to promote a 'race based' presidency.
To be sure, there are supporters of the government's policy of a 'reserved' (affirmative action?) presidency. Nonetheless, the policy does open the door for 'affirmative action' in other areas where minorities are proportionately underrepresented.
For example, anecdotal evidence suggests Malays are proportionately underrepresented in Singapore's armed forces. Does the government's new policy stance indicate the government may soon start reserving places for Malay officers in the military? Does the government’s new policy stance indicate it may soon start reserving places for Malay officers in the military? If so, which ethnic community (ies) will have to sacrifice in the implementation of such a policy? Undoubtedly, there are many questions without any clear answers.
|Is it possible to distill each human's DNA into race and ethnicity categories without fuzziness?|
The government's policy 'adjustments' to the presidential election system calling for candidates based on race contradicts the country's founding principle of meritocracy. After 52 years of independence one would expect authorities to encourage deeper integration by gradually and incrementally dismantling the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others) system – a colonial race based legacy – rather than strengthening an world-view filtered by ethnicity.
Meritocracy or allowing the most qualified to naturally filter upwards has served Singapore well since independence. One hopes the concept of 'ethnic fairness' will not further permeate the Singapore system through quotas and reserved seats but will cease exactly where it started: at the presidency.
Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.