The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas) will be renamed the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute on Aug 12, the 105th anniversary of the birth of Singapore's first president.
The move, approved by Parliament, was announced yesterday by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who said that, with the country turning 50 this year, it would be a fitting and timely tribute to the late Yusof Ishak, a pioneer leader who championed multiracialism.
"His convictions and life's work resonate strongly with Iseas' foundational tenets, and it is befitting that his name will be borne by Iseas," said Mr Heng.
Mr Yusof was the country's head of state after it achieved self-government in 1959, and six years later became the first president of an independent Singapore.
It was a turbulent time and communal tensions simmered. Mr Yusof, as the president, played a key role in helping to restore the trust and confidence of Singaporeans who lived through events like the 1964 racial riots.
Mr Yusof tirelessly visited constituencies and reached out to different racial and religious groups, noted Mr Heng.
"We are very fortunate that Encik Yusof was Singapore's head of state at our founding moment. That he embodied our sovereignty assured our pioneer generation of Malays that they have a place in Singapore - he assured all races that this would be home for all."
MPs who spoke in support of the renaming also praised Mr Yusof's deep and abiding commitment to racial and religious harmony.
It would be a way to continue his legacy of multiculturalism, said Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC).
Noting that race and religion have been potential pressure points in Singapore's history, Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said: "Encik Yusof showed through his life that, as a Singaporean, he rose above sectarian interests and looked towards larger national interests."
That, he added, was a proud moment for the Malay community.
But Mr Yusof - born in Perak, and whose descendants came from Sumatra, Indonesia - also captured the spirit of the South-east Asian archipelago.
Nominated MP Tan Tai Yong, a historian, said the renaming highlights how Singapore's identity and heritage are deeply rooted in the archipelago. Mr Yusof was therefore a fitting icon, he noted.
Iseas was established by the Government in 1968, three years after Singapore achieved independence. It has helped deepen understanding of the region and strengthened ties among regional scholars.
Colonial rule in the region was then coming to an end, and freshly independent South-east Asian countries saw regional integration as crucial to their survival.
Singapore, too, was looking to find its place in a region just starting to make its way forward, away from colonial rule.
And pioneer leaders like Mr Yusof and institutions like Iseas have helped inform Singapore's leaders, Mr Heng noted.
"Naming a highly regarded institution such as Iseas after Encik Yusof Ishak is our way of thanking and honouring Encik Yusof for his service to Singapore, of committing ourselves anew to the principles of harmony and unity that he held dear," he said.
"To have had Encik Yusof as our Yang di-Pertuan Negara and the first President of Singapore is a cause for gratitude, pride and inspiration. We hope that Singapore and Iseas will continue to take Encik Yusof's convictions forward."
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