The latest proposed amendments to Singapore's Constitution will strengthen its democracy and the recognition of its multiracial ideals, Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education Janil Puthucheary said.
The changes will inject diversity into the House by increasing the number of Non-Constituency MPs, and the move to introduce reserved elections guarantees all races the chance to become president, he told the House.
This allows Singapore to better strive to be a multiracial nation, he added, in calling on the Workers' Party (WP) to put the nation's interest first and change its mind on the changes to the elected presidency.
"It allows our first elected Malay president after many decades and it guarantees that we will have an elected president with representation across all the races," he said.
"It has a natural sunset where, over time, that mechanism may no longer be needed. So you have built into this constitutional amendment, I believe, one of the first times we can identify when we might truly arrive in the future as that ideal multiracial state. Not when we have an open contested election of various races. That would just be the start," he added.
It strengthens the role of Non-Constituency MPs, and gives voice to people who perhaps have not had a voice before. It strengthens the diversity in this House, it allows (us) our first elected Malay president after many decades, and it guarantees that we will have an elected president with representation across all the races. It does all these and more... Today, here, and tomorrow we have a motion to strengthen our presidency and our nation. The president is meant to be an office that rises above politics, that acts as a symbol of national unity, that takes a long-term view, and that protects our national interest over and above anything else.
MINISTER OF STATE FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, AND EDUCATION JANIL PUTHUCHEARY on reasons to support the Bill
"We need to have a few of those. We need to have a minority candidate that loses, and loses gracefully. Not because of his or her colour of skin but because he was not the best person for the job."
When the time comes, he added: "We will need... someone from one of the political parties to stand up and propose a constitutional amendment to remove the five-term hiatus and the reserved election mechanism. Then we'll know that there is political confidence that we can do so because there are no votes at risk.
"And we will have arrived at that ideal state as a multiracial nation."
Dr Janil admitted his own views on the mechanism to safeguard minority representation in the elected presidency had changed since the proposal was first put forward.
He now fully supports the move.
"The need for any kind of safeguard in our electoral process, in our political process, reminds us of the less-than-perfect human nature that we have to deal with... (It) reminds us how imperfect we are," he said. "We wish that it was not so. We wish that it was a much nicer world where we would not need such a mechanism. But we have to deal with the reality around us."
And the reality, as Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) pointed out, citing results of a recent survey, is that society here is not ready to turn a blind eye to race.
While the hope is that race will one day no longer play a significant part in the choice of candidate, the current review is timely, he added.
And he hopes that when the reserved election kicks in, voters will stand by the elected candidate.
"At no time must the credibility of the seat of the president be seen to be undermined or undervalued by Singaporeans as this will not only erode the goodwill that previous presidents have helped build up, it will also not be fair to the minority-elect president if there is even a doubt that he is there based on his ethnicity," Mr Zaqy said.