Singapore not ready for gay marriage

From ‘S’pore not ready for same-sex marriage: PM Lee’, 5 June 2015, article in Today

The Republic is not ready for same-sex marriage as the society is still “basically a conservative one”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said. While he noted the developments in developed countries, he pointed out the “considerable resistance” from these places too.

“There is a trend in developed countries. In America, they have gay marriage. It is state by state. Not all states have agreed. In Europe, some countries have done it … but there was big considerable resistance,” said Mr Lee. “Even in America, there is a very strong pushback from conservative groups against the idea.”

… “No, I do not think Singapore is ready … In Singapore, there is a range of views. There are gay groups in Singapore, there are gay people in Singapore and they have a place to stay here and we let them live their own lives. And we do not harass them or discriminate against them.

He added: “But neither, I think, if you ask most Singaporeans, do we want the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community to set the tone for Singapore society. The society is basically a conservative one. It is changing, but it is changing gradually and there are different views, including views especially from the religious groups who push back … It is completely understandable.”

The Government’s view is that “where we are … is not a bad place to be”, Mr Lee said. “There is space for the gay community, but they should not push the agenda too hard because if they (do), there will be a very strong pushback,” he added.

“And this is not an issue where there is a possibility that the two sides can discuss and eventually come to a consensus. Now, these are very entrenched views and the more you discuss, the angrier people get.”

If two camps can’t argue over a hot button issue without getting into juvenile fistfights, it speaks volumes about the level of ‘maturity’ of our society and the quality of intellectual debate. It also effectively spells ‘end of discussion’ for marriage equality, as other developed nations prefer to call it, because our Government is afraid of how people would react, tiptoeing gingerly over the issue like someone avoiding a roadside offering to a random deity.

No such worries about the casinos, though. Despite the obvious ‘resistance’, our leaders decided to take a calculated risk and subject people to misery and broken families for the sake of glamour and profit, without caring about what the ‘conservative’ folks think. For a while, we didn’t think we were ‘ready’ to get into the vice industry either. Today we’re one of the world’s most popular gambling destinations. The existence of a Higher Power is also an ancient ‘entrenched view’, and religious people get angry all the time whenever someone denies proof of their God, but that doesn’t mean we need to punish people for being atheists. Unless they’re Amos Yee.

Maybe there is an ethical or philosophical way about arguing for or against gay marriage without bringing our despairingly polarised emotions into it, if only our view of it wasn’t clouded by pedantic doctrine, an aversion towards ‘Western influences’ and an irrational ‘yuck factor’ that critics try to disguise when they defend the sanctity and ‘naturalness’ of one man-one woman. I wonder what they have to say about human-animal marriages, though.

We haven’t been ‘ready’ since 2009, when our law minister brushed off calls to repeal 377A. 10 years from now, we’ll still be that same ‘conservative’ society that doesn’t accept same-sex unions, penalises men for having sex with men and bans Jolin Tsai music videos, while referring to everything else that changes as the ‘new normal’ and self-congratulating ourselves for being an ‘inclusive’ society. MPs who are gays will forever refrain from ‘coming out’, and people like Ivan Heng will still get married anyway, with or without the Government, or Pastor Lawrence Khong’s, blessings. No, not even powerful, Ikea- sponsored Christian magic can make the gay go away.

Today, the government is basically repeating the same mantra that they prefer to maintain its old-fogey status quo, that ‘if it ain’t ‘broke(back), don’t fix it’. That you can do whatever you wish without imposing your agenda on others, and everyone is on balance satisfied without following the rest of the world. But one oft-used assumption that deserves to be challenged is why our leaders constantly presume that the ‘majority’ of Singaporeans are not in favour of gay marriage, without conducting islandwide surveys, or, ideally, a referendum (which I doubt they’d want to spend money on). That is perhaps the only reasonable, though costly, way to settle the ‘majority’ assumption once and for all. The Irish did exactly that, approving gay marriage by popular vote. Whether married gays there are henceforth condemned to be haunted by creepy leprechauns summoned by God for this dastardly betrayal remains to be seen.

LKY’s name and image not allowed in commercial merchandise

From ‘New law on Mr Lee Kuan Yew ‘not aimed at artists or creative work”, 31 may 2015, article by Walter Sim, ST

A new law to safeguard the name and image of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew from commercial profit is not aimed at restricting artistic or creative work, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said yesterday.

Such work could include paintings, books, movies, photographs or performances that make use of Mr Lee’s name or image, a ministry spokesman said in response to queries from The Sunday Times.

“Such works may be sold for private gain, but they are different from merchandised products for the mass market. Hence they will not be covered under the proposed law,” the spokesman said.

“The specific intent of the proposed law is to prevent Mr Lee’s image or name from being used in commercial merchandise. Examples are things like chocolate boxes, souvenir coins or medallions and office stationery,” she added.

‘Commercial merchandise’ would also include perishables like a Breadtalk bun in tribute to the man. Though borne out of good intentions with a charity aspect to it, negative reactions from the public swiftly killed the product. Which leads me to wonder, with such strong emotions displayed by Singaporeans in response to any form of exploitation of LKY’s name and image, is there even a need for a half-baked posthumous law where submissions are on a ‘case-by-case’ basis? You would have to set up an entire section within the ministry just to evaluate whether people can put LKY’s face on a manga comic, a doggie bowl, a video game, a lego set or a goddamn key chain.

Then there’s the question of what differentiates ‘commercial merchandise’ from those exempted for ‘artistic’ or ‘creative’ reasons if profit is to be made either way. If the garage that gave away the Alex Yam-designed ‘black ribbon’ car decals had instead sold them at 50 cents each in honour of SG50, would that be breaching the new law? Even if they did distribute the stickers for free, business may have surged after the gesture and earn the wrath of critics scoffing such tribute acts as ‘publicity stunts’ to generate revenue indirectly. If something of a ‘commemorative’ nature like a ‘souvenir coin’ is not allowed under the proposed legislation, what about those planned special edition $10 and $50 notes featuring LKY on them?

I was once in a cafe which showcased a series of LKY’s books as ‘browsing material’, possibly to draw reverent customers who are either too cheapstake to buy the books themselves, or have no idea how libraries work. So it’s hard to tell if someone is genuinely in awe of the man, or using some typical business cunning to reap profits out of his death, even if none of the actual merchandise that they’re selling has anything to do with LKY, or politics for that matter. It’s like a bar owner promoting a ‘Michael Jackson’ night and playing nothing but MJ albums on his stereo on the singer’s death anniversary, without necessarily giving his cocktails and salad entrees cheesy names like ‘Thriller’ or ‘Dill the World’.

There’s also the issue of whether I can only depict the man in a favourable light. If I were a performance artist mimicking our Dear Leader, but instead of all-white shirt and pants I’m dressed in a dragon emperor’s robe, would I be hauled up by the Police for doing injustice to Him even if I’m not earning a single cent from my act? Chances are someone would run up and slap me in the face before the police even get to hunt me down for blasphemy. I bet you won’t see LKY drinking, smoking or swearing in the upcoming movie and musical, though I’m sure in real life he wasn’t immune from such vices. The man eats, shits and breathes like everyone else.  Except that if you do portray him doing any of these things, you’ll likely get crucified on the spot, or worse,  ‘Amos-Yeed’. It would also probably be illegal for you do post memes like these, even if the short and sweet content below speaks volumes about how some people are messing about with our dead leader’s name.

Instead of curbing the unnecessary deification of LKY, this impending law may very well make the man more of an ubermensch than he already is and feed into this hysterical personality cult that he was so dead set against. He was protected by security officers and Gurkhas nearly all his life. Today we propose to shield the man with wishy-washy state laws, because there’s no dead person greater who deserves our veneration, not first President Yusof Ishak, Sir Stamford Raffles, comedian Victor Khoo, nor legendary getai Beng Ah Nan.  Leave Him in peace already.

NAC withdrawing $8000 grant for Sonny Liew’s graphic novel

From ‘NAC withdraws grant for graphic novel publisher due to ‘sensitive’ content’, 30 May 2015, article in CNA

The National Arts Council (NAC) has withdrawn a publishing grant for the graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye on the eve of its Singapore launch because of “sensitive content”. The council declined to elaborate on the reasons behind the decision to revoke the S$8,000 grant.

The experimental graphic novel by artist-illustrator Sonny Liew follows the story of comic-book artist Charlie Chan during the formative years of Singapore’s modern history. It weaves together fictional and historical elements, with nods to events and personalities in the nation’s history, such as Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, opposition politician Lim Chin Siong and Operation Spectrum, the so-called Marxist Conspiracy, in 1987.

In a statement, NAC’s senior director of the literary arts sector Khor Kok Wah said: “We had to withdraw the grant when the book The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye came out because its sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions. The Council will continue to support and work with Epigram, a leading publisher of Singapore literary works, on other projects.”

…Mr Liew expressed his disappointment with NAC’s decision. “I’d hoped the book was nuanced enough in … dealing with the issues. But developments have made it clearer that NAC works under constraints that make it difficult for it to support works that are deemed politically sensitive.”

In 2011, the NAC withdrew a grant for a volume of playwright Chong Tze Chien’s collected plays, which had included Charged, a play that dealt with national service and race.

According to the Funding Guidelines, NAC will reject works that appear to have a ‘negative influence on society’, those that advocate for lifestyles that are seen as ‘objectionable’ by the public, denigrate on the basis of race or religion, undermine the authority of the government or threaten the nation’s security or stability. In Charlie Chan, Operation Spectrum is satirised as a plot to ‘replace all music in Singapore with the melodies of Richard Marx’, which gives a new, rather ominous twist to the lyrics of his greatest hit ever, Right Here Waiting (wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you). Not only will this ‘indirect censorship’ boost sales of Sonny’s book, it will also draw audiences to rediscover the adult contemporary music genius that is Richard Marx.

A more extreme parallel to Charlie Chan would be the charges slapped on fellow cartoonist Leslie Chew, the mastermind behind ‘Demon-cratic Singapore’. But I would think another reason why the depiction of LKY in a comic book is considered ‘too sensitive’ for funding is probably because of recent discussions to make it illegal for anyone to commercialise the image of our great leader for personal gain. I wouldn’t be surprised if MDA goes around pasting black boxes over panels of Charlie Chan containing references to LKY or the Marxist insurgency. The way around that, of course, is to order the unedited ‘US version’, or head over to the Causeway to buy it, along with a DVD for ‘To Singapore, with Love‘, which would neatly serve as a ‘behind the scenes’ companion to Charlie Chan if you want to know more about that fog of Singapore history known as Operation Spectrum.

Interestingly, Chong Tze Chien, the other victim of NAC’s sudden withdrawal was featured on the organisation’s publication titled ‘Literary Singapore’. The ‘directory’ of writers describes the play ‘Charged’ as such:

Through his signature use of experimental and innovative puppetry and stage devices, Chong’s “Charged” is Singapore’s most controversial and nuanced political play to date – addressing the issue of racial tensions in the most explosive of scenarios – that of a Chinese corporal shooting his Malay counterpart while on military duty.

And then NAC decided: Hmm, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea supporting this after all, I want my money back. What was once lauded as a ‘most controversial’ portrayal of race relations becomes a ‘taboo’ overnight. One moment you’re giving yourself a pat on the back for a ‘progressive’ stance, and the next you’re hurriedly taking it back, like ‘modern’ parents having second thoughts about giving their 18 year old son the car keys before his big date, afraid that they may have to pay an abortion check later. Incidentally, ‘Charged’ won the ‘BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT’ at the 11th Life! Theatre Awards.

I suppose one has to be prepared to make a living the hard way if your grant doesn’t qualify because your book or script is too provocative by NAC standards and may spark a mass riot like Charlie Hebdo. If only they’d told you sooner though. MDA did the same last-minute about turn when they banned Ken Kwek’s Sex Violence Family Values when it was just about to premiere in local cinemas. You could say the authorities were ‘right there waiting’ before deciding to pull the plug.

Singapore turning away Rohingya boat people

From ‘Challenge, opportunity for Singapore’, 19 May 2015, ST Forum

(Mohamed Yazeed): THE complicated situation arising from the desperate migration of Rohingya people from Myanmar poses both a challenge and opportunity for Singapore.

The historical narrative we subscribe to, of Singapore being small and vulnerable and, hence, needing to do whatever it takes to survive, should not be an excuse to abandon our humanity.

Let us not speak of justice and compassion, yet turn away when there are human beings facing the horrendous fate of dying out in the ocean, which is right at our doorstep.

Although Singapore cannot accept any Rohingya due to the size of our nation, we can take the lead in trying to solve this problem at its roots.

Earlier this month, the Singapore Kindness Movement reported that we are becoming more ‘gracious’. Apparently the study did not evaluate whether Singaporeans were willing to escort drifting, hungry refugees onto our island and offer them food and shelter, instead of shooing them away because we can’t cope with the influx thereby letting them perish in the middle of the ocean or get robbed and raped by roving pirates.

In 1978, the late LKY responded to critics of our nation’s reluctance to extend a helping hand to Viet refugees, saying that ‘you’ve got to grow calluses on your heart or you’ll just bleed to death’. In other words, we were looking out for our own, and trying not to play Good Samaritan like someone opening his own doors to a horde of festering lepers. Except that at the time we were already letting thousands of migrants in through another door to boost the economy, nevermind the ‘small size’.  Despite all the money rushing in, we still had a heart of stone rather than one of gold. And for good reason too, according to S Rajaratnam, who in 1979 said that us extending a helping hand would mean ‘encouraging those responsible (for the exodus) to force even more refugees to flee’. That being ‘nice’ isn’t going to help humanity in the long run. Still, one of those Viet refugees rejected by us turned out to be a rather successful Australian governor.

Today, we continue to adopt the hard pragmatic stance of self-preservation at the expense of our ‘humanity’, but while turning away ‘illegal’ boat people, we welcome with open arms rich Chinese fraudsters and grant them PRs, or Caucasian hooligans who beat up taxi drivers and jump bail.  As the richest member of ASEAN, we fully expect our neighbours to give us the side-eye for brushing some desperate, stateless, fellow humans aside. It also doesn’t help that we’re on chummy terms with military junta leader Thein Sein, so much so that we have even named an orchid after him.

Meanwhile, despite the Rohingya crisis smack in our backyward, we send medical teams to far-flung disaster-struck Nepal to rebuild lives and go around dropping spare change into donation cans at 7-Elevens. Perhaps our callused heart is not that cold after all.

Changi airport would not exist without LKY

From ‘Aviation museum better way to honour Mr Lee’, 13 April 2015, article by Karamjit Kaur, ST

AN ONLINE petition for Changi Airport to be renamed Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) International Airport has garnered nearly 12,500 signatures over four days. The list is with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who said he would bring the matter up with the Government, according to the petition organiser, who goes by the moniker “Remembering LKY”.

When Parliament sits today, Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to consider renaming the airport after Mr Lee.

In a recent tribute to Mr Lee, who died at 91 on March 23, Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong said: “Changi Airport was his baby, and it has become an icon. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was truly the Father of Changi Airport.” So should the airport take his name?

While the petitioners have good intentions in honouring his legacy in this way, it might not be the best way to recognise his contributions. Make no mistake – without Mr Lee, there would be no Changi Airport. He was the one who pushed for the airport’s move from Paya Lebar to Changi, even though foreign experts disagreed. He foresaw that an airport on the coast would allow room for expansion towards the sea and would direct noise away from the city.

…To take away the name would undo, to some extent, the hard work put in over the past 34 years to build up this reputation. Indeed, one could argue it would diminish the legacy that Mr Lee has left behind. One middle-ground option that could be considered without removing Changi’s brand name would be to rename it Lee Kuan Yew Changi Airport.

The petitioners, who had hoped to go a step further by changing its airport code from SIN to LKY will be disappointed to learn that LKY is already being used by Lake Manyara Airport in Tanzania, Africa.

Well, without LKY, Singapore as we know it today would not exist. Should we rename Singapore to ‘Leekuanyew’ then? But let’s take a few steps back in our aviation history and examine the development of Changi Airport, and whether it’s true that it would not have existed if not for LKY’s calculated risk of abandoning Paya Lebar and going for broke. Along the way, expect to see the forgotten names of some unsung heroes, and unlikely naysayers. To the petitioners I say this: Read up your history before jumping on the petition bandwagon.

In the beginning, there were mangrove swamps and virgin forests on the north-eastern coast of Singapore, save for a sleepy fishing village and a couple of buildings. The serendipity of war led to the initial development of Changi into a state-of-the-art military base by the British in 1942. A year later when the Japanese invaded, POWs were forced to build two airstrips for Japanese fighters to defend Singapore. After the war ended, the Royal Air Force took over until the British withdrew from the island in 1967. If it weren’t for these invading foreigners, Changi would have remained a backwater marshland, nevermind how much blood has been spilled into its surrounding waters.

It wasn’t long before a debate ignited between the two sites, with the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) recommending Changi over Paya Lebar due to noise concerns for the latter. SPUR consisted of architects and planners from both private and public sectors, including Tay Kheng Soon and William Lim. A Polish town planner named Krystyn Olszewski made the same recommendation in 1971, citing health hazards of having a busy airport in the heart of the city. One disapproving voice against the writing off of 150 million dollars invested in the current airport was Perm Sec Ngiam Tong Dow, who didn’t buy the noise argument. If LKY had listened to the man, the proposal would have its wings clipped, and Changi would today be synonymous with nothing other than an airforce camp, chalets for BBQs and fishing, a haunted hospital, and anyone living around Paya Lebar would need MediShield to cover ruptured eardrums.

1974 brought the first oil shock and slowed the growth of air traffic, and given the delay in building a second runway at Paya Lebar, LKY took the chance to seriously consider an alternative aviation hub and take the ‘$1 billion gamble’, but not without hearing others out. One man who ‘pushed very hard’ for Changi was then Head of Civil Service and future Minister of Defence Howe Yoon Chong, whom LKY referred to as a ‘bulldozer’.  Howe and his Special Committee on Airport Development team did a final re-appraisal and concluded that Changi was the future of civil aviation. In fact, in PM Lee’s eulogy of the man, not only was his ‘vision and tireless energy’ acknowledged, but it was Howe who proved Goh Keng Swee wrong when he insisted that the MRT, and not an all-bus system, was the future of  public transport.

The dirty work of running the project after Cabinet approved of the shift fell to Sim Kee Boon,  who had the unenviable task of coordinating various agencies to turn a shabby military airbase into one of the finest airports the world has ever known. In Ong Teng Cheong’s opening ceremony speech in 1981, he expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the project, Howe, Sim, down to the contractors and sub-contractors. Well, everyone, except a certain Lee Kuan Yew.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Except that with LKY’s passing, his role in the making of Changi Airport has been, rather predictably, exaggerated. It was a series of fortunate, and unfortunate, events (the War, oil crisis), and the foresight and toil of other people, not just LKY, that led to the materialisation of the dream airport that we’ve become so proud of. In fact, if we were to rename Changi Airport to LKY Airport, it would diminish not just the man’s greatness, but those who contributed so much of their lives to make Changi what it is today. Let there be an aviation museum if you will, but let’s celebrate not just LKY but the people behind the scenes, criminally omitted from our history textbooks, without whom Changi Airport would remain a mere flight of fancy.

LKY wanted his Oxley Road House demolished

From ‘Mr Lee Kuan Yew stated in will that he wanted Oxley Road Home demolished’, 12 April 2015, article in Today

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had specified in his will that the house he shared his late wife on Oxley Road be demolished after his death, and this wish will be “administered strictly”, said his children Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

In a statement issued today (April 12), Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who are the executors and trustees of the late Mr Lee’s will, said their father had given them clear instructions directly and in his will — dated Dec 17 2013 — to demolish the house immediately after his death. If Dr Lee continued to live in the house, then the house should be demolished immediately after she moved out.

The late Mr Lee, who passed away on March 23, had been aware of the calls to preserve his home, but his wish expressed to his children and publicly was “unwavering” — that the house to be torn down upon his passing, said Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

“He was concerned an order might be issued against his wishes. He therefore added in his Lee Kuan Yew Will that ‘If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants’,” they said.

When interviewed during the launch of his book Hard Truths in 2011, LKY said that he didn’t want his Oxley residence, a ‘big rambling house’, to end up in shambles like Nehru or Shakespeare’s, and that because of his presence, nobody in the estate would dare build anything higher than his own. Even Google Maps can’t get anything out of its Street View of 38 Oxley Road beyond what appears to be an impenetrable forest.

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 10.05.55 PM

The media tells us that the house was ‘spartan’, with LKY’s bed bearing nothing more than a ‘towel blanket’ and a bolster. The downstairs bathroom had traditional mosaic tiles, a ‘hamdankong’ (barrel for making salted eggs) and an urn filled with water for bathing like how people used to wash themselves in the old days. Other than the old man’s computer, the second most modern thing in the house is probably his exercise bike, which looks set to the next piece of memorabilia to be displayed at the National Museum alongside his red box and the ‘battleship’ telegram. I’m sure LKY wouldn’t mind if someone designed an exact replica of the house as an exhibit by itself, with Gurkhas, hamdankongs and all.

There is currently a 1500-strong petition to gazette the house as a national heritage site and museum, which seems like a good idea for the sake of future generations, provided the government maintains it such and ignores the issue of property prices. Hundreds of years down the road people would still flock to Oxley Road like how tourists swarm the House of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire, where you could bring home a mini 38 Oxley Road fridge magnet as a souvenir, or get your picture taken with a Gurkha against the backdrop of the PAP’s ‘War Room’. The Chinese are already doing that to LKY’s ANCESTRAL home in Guangdong, regardless of what Singaporeans think.

Alas, LKY was not a man who would succumb to fawning sentiment, and would rather see a hideous luxury condo take its place in Oxley than have a part of his legacy worshiped and swooned over like devotees to a shrine. The last thing our late founding father wanted was to have his private domain turned into a site of pilgrimage, or a giant statue built in its place like our version of Christ the Redeemer. He already has a baby in India named after him, Jeyaprakesh Lee Kuan Yew. The least we could do, as grateful Singaporeans, is to fulfil a dying wish, and not be disobedient to Ah Gong like this writer/consultant in 2013, who basically thought destroying a monument in Singapore’s history was a silly idea. Ignore his wishes, and risk having Oxley Road eternally haunted by his angry hatchet-wielding spirit.

Still, it would be nice if we had an open house before the government sends the demolition team in, with the blessings of daughter Lee Wei Ling of course. You would probably have to start queuing from Novena MRT station for 8 hours to get a sneak peek, which could be a boon to Orchard Road businesses by the way.  Wonder what’s to become of the Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 apartments, though.

UPDATE(13 April 15): Lee Wei Ling has decided to continue staying in 38 Oxley Road. The house gets to live another day.

Two full Malay ministers in Cabinet is testament to meritocracy

From ‘Promotion to full minister shows Singapore runs on meritocracy: Masagos’, 8 Apr 2015, CNA

The promotion from Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs to full Minister is a testament to how Singapore is run on the basis of meritocracy, Mr Masagos Zulkifli said on Wednesday (Apr 8). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the promotion, along with changes to the portfolios of four other Ministers, earlier on Wednesday.

In an interview with MediaCorp’s Berita, Mr Masagos said: “It would seem apparent that the Malay community would celebrate having two full Ministers in the Cabinet for the first time, but I think this is also how Singapore runs on the basis of meritocracy.

“That you get the post, and are rewarded for your performance and contributions because of the impact you have made. Not because you are close to a particular person or that you are the son of somebody,” he added.

“I think this is important because it gives you the credibility to the people you serve as well as your colleagues. And I’m glad that this is the system that we have.

Credit to Masagos for getting the promotion, but feminists continue to frown because there’s only ONE woman minister in Cabinet currently (Grace Fu). Nobody’s going to tell you that women in Singapore have not ‘progressed’ based on their dismal representation in Cabinet. But since we’re keeping score, here’s the ministerial ethnic breakdown, with the Chinese leading the way.

Chinese: 13
Indian: 4 (Vivian Balakrishnan technically of mixed-race heritage)
Malay: 2
Eurasians: None (Though S Iswaran represents the community’s interests)

There’s another system that Masagos probably needs to acknowledge, one that brought him into politics in the first place. The GRC. To be specific, his Tampines team led by Mah Bow Tan beat their SDA opponents 68-31% in the 2006 GE. SDA did reasonably well despite the line-up of relative unknowns though, compared to the other opposition parties including an SDP led by Chee Soon Juan’s sister.

In 1988,  Goh Chok Tong introduced the ‘Team MP’ concept, in which selected GRCs would require to place at least one Malay candidate up for contest. There were also select committees set aside to decide if you were considered a ‘minority’ candidate or not. A ‘Malay’ for example, is defined as someone who is Malay, Javanese, Boyanese, Bugis, Arab or ANY OTHER PERSON, generally accepted as a member of the Malay community or by that community’.  To which Chiam See Tong remarked that even a European, or a MAORI, would be considered as a ‘Malay’ if he or she was generally accepted to be one. I’m bad in Mandarin and read everything in English i.e jiak kantang. Does that make me accepted as an ‘ang moh’?

Chiam then went on to urge the Government to reconsider such ‘racial’ politics, while others lamented about the ‘special protection’ given to Malays, which curiously enough, allegedly contravenes the principles of meritocracy. In other words, that a tinge of ‘tokenism’ belies the progress of the minority community, a phrase that Ng Eng Hen used to deny that the rise of Malays/Muslims in the armed forces had anything to do with race or religion.

So it’s not just a matter of simply performing well and earning it regardless of your ethnicity. Ex press secretary to LKY James Fu wrote in a 1988 letter that Malay MPs were dropped or shuffled around constituencies based on ‘preferences for a Chinese candidate’ from the ground, and even expressed concern that there may come a time when there may be NO MALAY MPs at all if we allowed non-Malay communities to vote their own kind into Parliament. Chillingly, he had this to say about the Chinese voting habits: “The fact is, other things being equal, Chinese voters prefer a Chinese to a Malay MP.” We have voters preferring young pretty politicians over old, ugly ones, tall ones over short ones, thin over fat. I mean, why trust voters and bother with elections at all, let the PM handpick all his men/women then, Malay or non-Malay, then we don’t need to worry about a certain race or sex dropping out of Parliament entirely. It’s all democracy’s fault that we’re racially imbalanced, dammit!

Echoing Chiam, our Cabinet should be made up of Singaporeans regardless of race language or religion, not Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian, mixed-race or what have you and neither should we indulge in bean-counting MPs and ministers of a certain race as a gauge of one community’s progress as a whole. But that, the PAP would tell you, is unrealistic. Still,  when it comes to the top position, the man of the House, it appears that there remain reservations on the ethnicity of a future Prime Minister other than a majority race. LKY himself admitted that he did not consider S Dhanabalan as a successor as he felt Singapore was not ‘ready for an Indian PM’. Now that he’s passed away, no one would ever accuse him of discrimination. The day of ‘true meritocracy’ or equality will only come when we see a Malay taking the helm. Until then, we’re not as impartial as we’d like to think ourselves to be.

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