Reserved presidential elections necessary for harmony: DPM Teo

DPM Teo Chee Hean addressing the crowd at Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple's 100th anniversary celebration, on Sept 26, 2017.
DPM Teo Chee Hean addressing the crowd at Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple's 100th anniversary celebration, on Sept 26, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean is the latest Singapore leader to weigh in on the issue of reserved presidential elections, explaining yesterday that they are a necessary move to maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore.

Singaporeans have questioned the need for them, as well as for the group representation constituencies (GRCs) and ethnic integration rules in Housing Board estates, since the country already enjoys racial and religious peace and harmony.

But the reason Singapore enjoys such harmony is that "we have been far-sighted enough to put in place these provisions", DPM Teo said at the 100th anniversary dinner of Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple in Paya Lebar.

He added: "It is particularly important that the Chinese community supports these provisions, so that our minority communities will always feel assured."

In 1988, the GRC system was introduced to ensure Parliament will always have minority MPs.

A year later, the Government put in place the Ethnic Integration Policy, which mandates a quota for all communities in HDB estates, to prevent racial enclaves from forming.

FAR-SIGHTED PROVISIONS

In the face of growing racial and religious strife in our region and the world, it is wiser to have these provisions in place to maintain our harmony.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN

Most recently, changes were made to the Constitution to reserve presidential elections for a racial group not represented for five continuous terms.

In making the various changes, DPM Teo said, Singapore has avoided situations in which HDB estates are segregated by race, or where minority communities worry about representation in Parliament or the presidency.

"These provisions have helped us achieve the precious harmony that we have. We all hope that one day, we will not need them," he added.

But not right now, he indicated.

"In the face of growing racial and religious strife in our region and the world, it is wiser to have these provisions in place to maintain our harmony," he said, reiterating a point he spoke about earlier in the day at the National Security Conference.

DPM Teo urged Singaporeans from all communities to give their support to Madam Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first Malay President in 47 years since President Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

She was declared President in a walkover in the country's first reserved election this month.

DPM Teo noted that Madam Halimah was a strong unifying figure.

"All communities have supported her nomination. Let us give her our full support," he said.

His comments follow those of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who both touched on the issue last week.

PM Lee acknowledged in a Facebook post that issues of race and multiracialism were on the minds of Singaporeans following the reserved election.

DPM Tharman, in a dialogue with undergraduates, said he was encouraged that people feel strongly about the reserved election and aspire for race not to count so much in future.

Both also spoke of how racial harmony is a work in progress.

Making the same point, DPM Teo said Singapore's pioneer leaders had laid the foundation for promoting this harmony, and urged all Singaporeans to continue with the work.

He observed that the Taoist temple had, for instance, reached out to other faiths to organise joint events, and representatives from different racial and religious groups were at the dinner.

"We must continue to reach out to each other, adopt inclusive practices and social norms that allow all Singaporeans to interact freely, and enlarge our common space," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'Reserved presidential elections necessary for harmony: DPM Teo'. Print Edition | Subscribe