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Is Singapore ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?

In 1988, Lee Kuan Yew revealed that minister S Dhanabalan had been a possible candidate to succeed him as prime minister but then concluded that Singaporeans were not ready for an Indian prime minister.

Several people had privately expressed the view that Lee Kuan Yew had in mind a certain person to be a future prime minister. The reason that Singaporeans were not ready for a non-Chinese prime minister did not pass the test of credibility.

I personally was sceptical of the reason. While 75 percent of the residents of Singapore were of Chinese origin, they had lived for several decades under the colonial rule of the British until self-government in 1959.

In April 1955, a non-Chinese lawyer, David Marshall, led the left-wing Labour Front to a narrow victory in Singapore’s first Legislative Assembly elections. He formed a minority government and became Chief Minister.

Clearly, the majority race in Singapore had accepted a non-Chinese as the government leader three decades before Lee Kuan Yew expressed that astonishing opinion.

Furthermore, Singaporeans had for several decades been imbued with the concept of meritocracy and to select the best people “regardless of race, language and religion”.

Singaporeans had seen the success of this approach in building a harmonious society that achieved remarkable social and economic progress.

I held an immense respect for Lee Kuan Yew for his foresight and insight on international affairs and for his approach in running the government of Singapore. There were however a few matters that I differed from his views. This was one of them.

Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister on 28 October 1990. He was later succeeded by Lee Hsien Loong (eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew) on 12 August 2004.

The question of the successor for Lee Hsien Loong came up in December 2017. Goh Chok Tong, who held the position of emeritus senior minister after retiring as prime minister, said that it was urgent for the leadership of the ruling party to identify the next prime minister to take over from Lee Hsien Loong before the end of 2018.

Many people among the general public were in favour of senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to take over this position.

An economist by profession, Tharman served in the private and public sectors for several decades, before entering political life in 2001. He subsequently became the minister of education, minister of finance and deputy prime minister.

He had also served with distinction as Singapore’s representative in several international bodies, including the G20 Eminent Persons Group, the International Monetary Fund and in the United Nations.

The decision to select the next leader for Singapore was not taken by the people at large. It was decided in secret by the elected members of parliament from the ruling People’s Action Party.

In May 2018, the party decided on another Chinese, namely finance minister Heng Swee Keat.

In March 2019, Heng Swee Keat defended the party’s decision to select him, in favour of the more popular non-Chinese candidate, in a university forum. He said that the people would still prefer a Chinese to be the prime minister and made this statement “I can tell you that it is not easy because it triggers all the feelings about race, which are not obvious. But for an election, it becomes an issue.”

A few days after this assertion, 19,900 individuals responded to a viral Facebook poll and 92 percent voted for Tharman Shanmugaratnam to succeed Lee Hsien Loong and become the next prime minister. This poll did not have any binding power.

A more scientifically based Blackbox survey commissioned by Yahoo Singapore found that 69 per cent of 897 respondents said they would prefer Tharman to become the prime minister.

In a survey conducted by Channel NewAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies in 2019, 69.6% of respondents said they could accept a Singaporean-Malay and 70.5% said that they would accept a Singaporean-Indian as the prime minister. These percentages were higher than a similar survey conducted in 2016.

The choice of the people, if these polls were to be believed, was clearly in favour of a non-Chinese to take over as the next prime minister.

This issue of racial pre-requisite for the head of government came up for discussion in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first black person to be elected as President of the United States of America. Prior to his election, the office had always been held by a white person, who formed the majority race in America.

If America could elect a minority as the president, and one who came from a community had served as slaves in America, why can’t Singapore?

I recalled that Lee Hsien Loong gave a weak answer to his question. It was never debated actively anyway.

This question of the racial prerequisite came up again recently, in November 2022, when Rishi Sunak was elected by the ruling Conservative Party to be the prime minister in the United Kingdom. This was the first time that an Asian was elected to the top office in the UK.
The election of the prime minister was decided internally by the ruling party and not the country at large. (Singapore follows this practice).

If a former colonial power, who ran an empire that “the sun never sets” for two centuries, could accept a non-white, and one whose grandparents came from a former colony, to lead the country, why can’t Singapore.
This time, I did not see any active debate, so far.

Let me give an answer to the question – is Singapore ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?

My answer is – the people have been ready for many decades. But the ruling People’s Action Party is not ready yet.

 

Tan Kin Lian

 

 

yyy
READER COMMENTS BELOW

18 Responses to “Is Singapore ready for a non-Chinese prime minister?”

  • Temusik Patriot:

    Tan ahhh! NOTHING to do with PaP but EVERYTHING from A rasist-bigot-coward-trsitor & Liar aptly named…Lie Con You

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  • lhl noobie:

    Temusik Patriot:
    Tan ahhh! NOTHING to do with PaP but EVERYTHING from A rasist-bigot-coward-trsitor & Liar aptly named…Lie Con You

    Than ltk visit lky. PSP got lhy, no one can vote already. Hide at home.

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  • lhl noobie:

    Temusik Patriot:
    Tan ahhh! NOTHING to do with PaP but EVERYTHING from A rasist-bigot-coward-trsitor & Liar aptly named…Lie Con You

    In malaysia no matter which party you vote, the king is there. Same for UK. So Singapore the same right? So hide at home. You all no need type anything already. Dont waste bandwidth. I already read until very smart. When you all solving issues?

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  • xoxo:

    Well,i say sgs have been ready to accept any good n capable leader ,of any race,to be PM.
    Only incumbent *chinese* PMs here are the ones NOT READY??.

    So,who are racist or even xenophobic?
    Guess not you nor me.
    All are sgs mah.

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  • only stupid people vote pap:

    Singapore already has an INDIAN woman as president.

    Therefore

    Singapore is now ready for a woman Prime Minister aka Ms Sylvia Lim.

    Equally

    Singapore is also ready for an non Chinese Prime Minister aka Mr Pritam Singh.

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  • k:

    The dying Qing Dynasty was very happy that they still controlled the Forbidden City and thought it was safe hiding inside the City and could countrol the whole country from there. They did not care about the plight of the poor people and the foreigners stealing and taking over the country.

    The rest is history. Hiding inside a small hole of kaki lang and thinking it is safe is stupidity has no cure. It is only a matter of time when the foreigners break down the walls and cut off the heads of everyone inside the Forbidden City.

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  • Not elected lah:

    TKL is not precise over quite a few points.

    One of them is that Sunak was elected. Not really. He walked through without any competitor during a conservative mp vote. We will have to wait for the general election to see what the whole population will do. But we had the whole-party election when Sunak and Truss were running. Sunak lost. A white woman was preferred over a black man.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_history_of_Rishi_Sunak
    October 2022 Conservative Party leadership election
    Nominated and elected unopposed by 197 Conservative MPs

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  • lhl noobie:

    You know why you all blame lky and he luff at you all noobie for those that kena isa? I already tell you liao. Inside spf got workers party Sylvia lim also. How many more workers party inside spf, any common folks know? When do you see sylvia lim last time? Only got ltk leh. Where she appear one? How about jamus lim? Appear from where?

    You all write so many articles until i become so smart, still ownself dont get it. No wonder need ceca.

    Inside malaysia no matter which party, the king is there. Same for uk. So stay at home during election. If dont listen, want to vote, like find wife like that see the face pretty a not. You think feng shui is fake? Is just that diff master say diff thing. You kan wrong master. Go geylang one got geylang face. Pcc one got pcc face. Haiz. Please read all religion books and combine knowledge. That why no one invent iphone in singapore. Even i want to invent things, later one china do a kakashi, also useless. Poor lhl.

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  • SINGAROAR:

    It was LkY that had wanted his son to be PM that raised racial divisions.The PAP rides on this until today. Why should there be Sinda etc? All agencies should work to assist Singaporeans as a nationality not create racial based institutions as we have now.All appointments including the President should be based on merit not on race.So it is the PAP that has been creating racial based policies to divide and rule.It also decreases the pool of talent as can be seen by LHL’s term in office.He is not of the same calibre as Tharman but has remained in office because he is Chinese.The reason why Malaysians suffer is for the same reason. They want only a Malay PM so they loose on the talent pool.

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  • idontbelieveinccpbs:

    You mean LKY and his son are not ready, especially if power is going to non LEE. This is why seat warmer had been used to look as if it is not a dynasty. If LHY joins next GE, it is confirmed LW is just another Ah Goh.

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    It is “RACE” not issues that even a pig can solve by learning how to fly…”FOUR Legs good 2 legs better”

    lhl noobie: In malaysia no matter which party you vote, the king is there. Same for UK. So Singapore the same right? So hide at home. You all no need type anything already. Dont waste bandwidth. I already read until very smart. When you all solving issues?

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  • opposition dude:

    Wah a long post by textbook Tan, I didn’t think he was capable of writing long posts you know.

    People will point to the fact that minority candidates have won in elections so we are ready for a non chinese PM, it’s the PAP who doesn’t want a non chinese PM but they can’t say it publicly without the minority races accusing them of being racist. So the next best thing is to get botak to come right out to say he isn’t in the running for the top job as well as “explaining” that the majority race does not want a minority as PM. Says who, we all ask? Where did PAP get the info on this “fact” and why haven’t they produced the evidence?

    Once again, PAP is caught out lying as usual along with their old “More than 80% of Singaporeans own their flats” nonsense. They have already tried this before with the “Malay must be president” nonsense before so they don’t have any defence except to change the story as and when they feel like it which always ends up as contradictory. Add this to how PAP loves (loved?) to always talk about meritocracy eh? Here we have a political party that does the opposite of what it says ha ha ha!

    PAP has become nothing more than a joke these days with all the nonsense they have said previously. Better watch out for their oh so precious vote share to drop again!

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  • nathan chen:

    Tharman, is a true blue Singaporean What is a true blue Singapore? A follower not a leader. Hahaha. Not his own man. No guts, no balls. Never fight for anything. Play it safe and just get it. He had achieved all that he wanted in life. Why should he want more and risks everything for you. Look for someone worthier than Tharman to be Singapore Supremo, outside the fcuking PAP, not within. Never anyone within the PAP, no Mather how brillant or charismatic. Be careful, suckers what you wish for, the PAP might yet lasts another century.

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  • The Un-Pofmaeable:

    I am not ‘Pofa-eable’ not because my opinions are not worthy of any attention. Talk come, talk go is those in high office in government would be seen to be crazier than me to Pofma, me. It won’t look good on them.But who knows, one fine day I might finally rub some MPs and Ministers and those in the Pofa office the wrong way, and I kena. So, you fcukers here who are scare of this and scare of that to think you are heavy-weight enough to be pofma, stop your self-censorship under the guise of a balance but incomplete narratives. Hahaha.

    The one worthy to be the next PM must be the one who is able to instil fear in PM Lee Hsien Loong. Within PAP. I will not say outside the PAP because there is present no one outside can instil fear in PM Lee.

    Within the PAP, there are two that PM Lee fear. K.Shanmugam, the Home affairs and Law Ministers is one. He befuddled Ah Loong in Parliament over the Speak Mandarin. Of course that was years ago when Shamugam was just an MP and Ah Loong was a Minister. Tll today, these two are extremely wary of each other. Any way the point here is if you want to have an local Indian PM, you might as well pick Shanmugam. The other one is former Koh Boon Wan, sadly the ex-minister. Hahaha

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  • only stupid people vote pap:

    The Un-Pofmaeable:
    I am not ‘Pofa-eable’ not because my opinions are not worthy of any attention. Talk come, talk go is those in high office in government would be seen to be crazier than me to Pofma, me. It won’t look good on them.But who knows, one fine day I might finally rub some MPs and Ministers and those in the Pofa office the wrong way, and I kena. So, you fcukers here who are scare of this and scare of that to think you are heavy-weight enough to be pofma, stop your self-censorship under the guise of a balance but incomplete narratives. Hahaha.

    The one worthy to be the next PM must be the one who is able to instil fear in PM Lee Hsien Loong. Within PAP. I will not say outside the PAP because there is present no one outside can instil fear in PM Lee.

    Within the PAP, there are two that PM Lee fear. K.Shanmugam, the Home affairs and Law Ministers is one. He befuddled Ah Loong in Parliament over the Speak Mandarin. Of course that was years ago when Shamugam was just an MP and Ah Loong was a Minister. Tll today, these two are extremely wary of each other. Any way the point here is if you want to have an local Indian PM, you might as well pick Shanmugam. The other one is former Koh Boon Wan, sadly the ex-minister. Hahaha

    Hahaha.

    You are so wrong. ah loong is very afraid of 50.01% outside pap voting against pap.

    we are 4 in number. when OPPO reaches 50.01%, ah loong fears the 4 of us for sure. This is guaranteed.

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  • KT2:

    They say they are not ready for a non-Chinese PM umpteenth time, but suddenly a few years back they suddenly said they were ready for a non-Chinese Pre_ _dent !!!

    Many years ago when Mr Taman was a DPM, I rmbr many voiced out for him to be a non-Chinese PM, BUT d Party Against People refused to listen to d voices of d mass ! In d earliest batches of NSmen, we used “no heel”. At tat time, they oso said d same stuff, i.e. not ready for a non-Chinese PM. So much so, I think d then DPM Taman voiced out tat he was not interested for a PM post much to d disappointment of many. Years later, he was made SM till today, perhaps going to retire soon ! So, u see, d ppl has no say, la and ONLY one person decides !!!

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  • Ready lah:

    The people are ready for the best person to be PM.
    Don’t care what race or gender.
    Only the best will do.

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  • Temusik Patriot:

    Sylvia Lim is in the SPF not attached to ISD or ISA an instrument of Evil for The bastard who CON YOU…you r n idiot not to know

    lhl noobie:
    You know why you all blame lky and he luff at you all noobie for those that kena isa? I already tell you liao. Inside spf got workers party Sylvia lim also. How many more workers party inside spf, any common folks know? When do you see sylvia lim last time? Only got ltk leh. Where she appear one? How about jamus lim? Appear from where?

    You all write so many articles until i become so smart, still ownself dont get it. No wonder need ceca.

    Inside malaysia no matter which party, the king is there. Same for uk. So stay at home during election. If dont listen, want to vote, like find wife like that see the face pretty a not. You think feng shui is fake? Is just that diff master say diff thing. You kan wrong master. Go geylang one got geylang face. Pcc one got pcc face. Haiz. Please read all religion books and combine knowledge. That why no one invent iphone in singapore. Even i want to invent things, later one china do a kakashi, also useless. Poor lhl.

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