The Chinese community, which makes up the majority in Singapore, has always acted in the interests of the wider society, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said yesterday in Parliament.
"When necessary, the community has made important compromises to protect Singapore's values of multiculturalism and multiracialism," said Mr Ong in Mandarin, as the House entered Day Two of the debate on proposed changes to the elected presidency.
One example of the community compromising was when it agreed to have English as the state's working language, he added.
This is why he believes the community will understand the need to safeguard minority representation in the president's office.
"All races need to have the chance of being elected president. This is the only way that our president can be a symbol of multiracial Singapore," he said.
But apart from being a unifying figure who can connect with Singaporeans from all walks of life, the president must also have the financial acumen to manage the country's reserves, said Mr Ong.
To ensure that the president has the right skills to safeguard past reserves, the eligibility criteria need to be refreshed and updated from time to time, he said.
He added that the Chinese have a saying that wealth does not survive three generations.
But he believes this to be less a prediction, and more a reminder to successors to cherish the efforts of their predecessors.
Successful home-grown brands such as Singapore Airlines, Tiger Balm and United Overseas Bank have defied the Chinese saying and have weathered storms only to emerge stronger, he said. "These enterprises have responsible leaders working hard to keep their companies going."
UPHOLDING FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS
The values of multiculturalism, multiracialism and meritocracy are fundamental beliefs of Singapore. I believe the Chinese community understands this. This is why in the process of nation-building, the community has made important compromises when necessary to protect our multicultural and multiracial values. One example is when the community agreed to have English as the state's working language.
MINISTER OF EDUCATION (HIGHER EDUCATION AND SKILLS) ONG YE KUNG, on how the Chinese community has always acted in the larger interests of Singapore.
Those tasked with safeguarding the country's reserves too need to act responsibly, he said.
The elected presidency is the Government's way of institutionalising responsibility, by giving the president the second key to the country's reserves, he said.
This, said Mr Ong, ensures that Singapore's wealth is not squandered within three generations as the Government is prevented from acting as it pleases.
But only when the president is elected by a popular vote will his second key wield as much power as the first key the Government holds. "This way, the Government and the president can act as an effective check and balance on each other," said Mr Ong.
Borrowing a Singlish phrase popularised by opposition MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), Mr Ong said: "Some may say this is 'ownself check ownself'.
"But self-restraint is a virtue. Only a wise and responsible government will do that. A government hungry for power will never check its own actions."
The Government also needs to strengthen the political system in times of stability. This is the only way to safeguard Singapore's future and ensure some regulation in the system, no matter which party comes into power, he said.