Dear Singapore, your obsession (and your government’s) with ethnicity is getting out of hand. You need to stop it. 

I didn’t want to write this initially. I didn’t comment back when Joseph Schooling won and there were people asking if he was “Singaporean enough” to call it a gold for the country. I mean, his identity card says he’s Singaporean. That should be enough. I refused to write an opinion when the Mediacorp incident with Shane Pow reminded us of just how backward script writers for our local television programmes were. Instead, I convinced our colleague to do it instead

But now, our Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) has decided to toss out in Parliament a commentary about the Chinese community and the magnanimity it’s shown to the country over the decades of our formation and growth (these are my words and my interpretation of what he’s said, not his). Ironically, this was in defence of the bill to propose changes to our elected presidency, that will ensure minority representation if the race hasn’t been represented as president for the last five times. 

Singapore, a mix of different cultures and lifestyles, ethnicities and histories

Singapore, a mix of different cultures and lifestyles, ethnicities and histories

Let’s start with just how baffling the intended proposal is, and not because of representational bias, or that it goes against the concept of meritocracy that’s supposed to be a founding ideal of our nation. How does having a minority president who will be perceived by the broad public as having gained the position due to his/her ethnicity, effectively stand by the work that he/she has to perform, and how is that a good example for anyone? I’m not suggesting that a minority president is only appointed for his/her race, since qualifications are immensely important and they are certain to be highly skilled. But policy and charisma should be the calling cards for an election, not race. A president, regardless of his/her race, should have an opinion and ideas on how to encourage racial integration and acceptance within various communities.

Encouraging more to run for the position by making the conditions necessary for nomination easier would have been appreciated by everyone. Adding a racial premise to every five presidential elections is baffling. Why five? And why stop at the presidency? 

Let's just be Singaporean.

Let’s just be Singaporean.

I welcome racial inclusion, in any way form or shape. I’ve always hated the term ‘tolerance’. That’s what I’d use to describe my attitude to kids that shriek on public transport and run up and down restaurants, not a fellow Singaporean of a different ethnic background. I’ve never really understood why our races must be stipulated on our identitity cards, or anywhere that’s officially documented, really. Apart from the possibility of benefiting from the HDB racial quota (which is again another outdated idea), it offers nothing. I don’t have any idea why Minister Ong Ye Kung felt that it was necessary to speak about the ethnic Chinese community’s “important compromises” (his words, not mine) when speaking about the importance of safeguarding minority representation in the president’s office. In doing so, he’s made it sound like a minority president is in his opinion, that. Which is ridiculous.

One of the constitutional roles of the presidency is oversight over the CPIB as well as maintaining religious harmony. At the same time, he/she also has to approve changes to key appointments. A leader of a minority ethnic group would probably have more insight into such issues. But that insight should not be mandated by government. It should be offered by the candidate as an example of how much more suited he/she would be to lead the country.

I recognise race is a sensitive issue. But Singaporeans will only come to terms with it when they finally identify themselves as Singaporean. Not Chinese/Eurasian/Indian/Malay Singaporean or Singaporean Chinese/Eurasian/Indian/Malay or any other ethnic group I may have missed out. Let’s just be Singaporean. Boleh?

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When will we learn to call ourselves Singaporean?
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