System must advance multiracialism in society

I welcome changes to the law to guarantee that ethnic minorities are elected as president from time to time ("PM hints at provision for minority elected president", Monday; and "Elected presidency: Proposed changes may be at odds with spirit of meritocracy" by Mr Seah Yam Meng, Forum Online, Tuesday).

What our society needs now is a system that does not just "promote equality" but also truly advances it.

Meritocracy is a value system that has governed how Singapore has elected its leaders for many years. By definition, this system requires one to disregard race, religion, values and social status.

However, it has been found that Singaporeans still hold a certain preference towards political candidates of their own race ("Singaporeans respect all races, but racism still an issue: Survey"; Aug 20).

Given that a minority candidate would start off at a disadvantage when pitted against a candidate from the majority race, by virtue of numbers, such provisions to guarantee that a minority candidate is elected from time to time are targeted and timely.

By ensuring that the position that represents all Singaporeans - regardless of race, language, religion or place of origin - is periodically occupied by a candidate who understands the unique challenges faced by minority races, we are making sure that our society remains firmly grounded in our founding value of multiracialism.

Since the sentiments of the voting population are unlikely to change in the coming decade, the choice lies between upholding meritocracy or ensuring that our leaders reflect the values which bond and strengthen our country.

Such a change to the system does not underestimate the rationality or maturity of Singaporeans at the ballot box; rather, it is the rational and necessary measure that will carry Singapore further in our pursuit of equality in representation.

However, it is better if Singapore can see an elected minority president or prime minister without such provisions in place.

Thus, I encourage all Singaporeans to move beyond automatically preferring leaders of their own race to carefully considering each candidate's ability and merit in relation to others.

It is one thing to tout the fact that our society is largely meritocratic; quite another to actually demonstrate that in our choice of leaders.

While such provisional changes are essential, I anticipate a time in the near future when more Singaporeans recognise the benefit minority leaders can have on the progress of our country in becoming a truly multiracial state.

Shermaine Ang (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'System must advance multiracialism in society'. Print Edition | Subscribe