Singapore's envoy to Malaysia rebuts Utusan on elected presidency

Singapore's Ambassador to the UN Vanu Gopala Menon addresses a UN Security Council meeting on Myanmar at the United Nations, in New York.
Singapore's Ambassador to the UN Vanu Gopala Menon addresses a UN Security Council meeting on Myanmar at the United Nations, in New York. PHOTO: AFP

Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia has issued a rebuttal to Utusan Malaysia newspaper over false allegations on Singapore's upcoming presidential election which is reserved for Malay candidates, and on its Malay community.

Mr Vanu Gopala Menon wrote to the Malay-language newspaper yesterday in reply to its Aug 14 article "Berubahkah nasib kaum Melayu di Singapura? Presiden sekadar simbolik" (Will the fortunes of Malays change in Singapore? President is only symbolic).

"Contrary to the false assertions in the commentary, the Singapore President, who is elected with a popular mandate, plays key roles in nation-building and in ensuring good governance," he wrote.

Mr Menon said these roles include being the symbol and unifier of a multiracial Singapore, the custodian of the country's reserves, and the protector of the integrity of its public service.

"Surely, Utusan Malaysia would agree that these are important tenets which every country should safeguard."

The Aug 14 Utusan article by Ms Marzita Abdullah said: "The post of President of Singapore sounds great but it is only symbolic without any political power."

She wrote: "Maybe because non-Malays in Singapore are given priority and advantages in all aspects, (previous) presidents did not have to struggle to consider the fate of their own race. Therefore, when a Malay holds the post of president, the direction that Malays are headed will surely be given attention as that race constantly feels sidelined in its own country."

In his letter, Mr Menon stressed that "Singapore's Malay community has achieved significant social and economic progress within Singapore's rules-based and meritocratic society".

He said: "We are, as a nation, proud of these accomplishments, and we will achieve further progress together. It is incorrect to say that non-Malays in Singapore have been given 'priority and advantages'. We certainly do not have a race-based system of benefits and patronage."

He added: "Singapore will not tolerate the use of race or religion to promote ill will between different segments of Singapore society, or to undermine our institutions."

He had earlier replied to Utusan's May 28 editorial on the election to counter inaccuracies that meritocracy was used as an excuse to discriminate against the community.

"The Editor did not publish my letter for reasons I could not understand other than not providing a true picture to the readers. Instead, the Editor published a second commentary, with similar inaccuracies and misrepresentations," he said.

Utusan's largest shareholder is Umno, which dominates Malaysia's ruling coalition and owns 49.77 per cent of the 78-year-old newspaper.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore's envoy to Malaysia rebuts Utusan on elected presidency'. Print Edition | Subscribe