Matter of time before Singapore sees a minority PM: Tharman

Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking during the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking during the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking with Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria who chaired the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam speaking with Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria who chaired the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES
DBS CEO Piyush Gupta asks a question during the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.
DBS CEO Piyush Gupta asks a question during the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference on July 3.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES
The audience of the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference.
The audience of the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES

AFTER 50 years of nationhood, it is a matter of time before Singapore sees a prime minister from an ethnic minority, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Friday.

"It is inevitable that at some point, a minority prime minister - Indian, Malay, Eurasian, or some mixture - is going to be a feature of the political landscape because we have meritocracy, it is an open system, it is just a matter of time," he added.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, was responding to a question from Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria on whether Singapore could see an Indian prime minister.

Mr Zakaria was chairing the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference, to discuss what lies ahead for Singapore.

 

In response, DPM Tharman said he's not keen on the job, but added that it was inevitable that Singapore will have a minority Prime Minister. 

"Singapore is evolving, the common space that everyone is growing up in is much larger than pre-independence or even in our early decades," he said.

"It is a pretty strong common space, an education system where everyone is educated, first language English. You go through common experiences together, National Service, so it is a matter of time."

When probed by Mr Zakaria if he would not serve if he's been selected, Mr Tharman drew a sporting analogy.

"Let me put it this way, we all have our preferences. And I was always, in sports, a centre half rather than centre forward. I enjoy playing half back and making the long passes, but I am not the striker," he said.

"Unless I am forced to be, and I don't think I will be forced to it, because I think we have got choices. It is not bad that we think so hard about succession, and we don't always get it the way we expect it to be, but we think very hard about succession in Singapore."

"And I think we have a crop of people who are in the fray and entering the fray who will provide future leadership," he added.

The question of whether and when Singapore might see a minority prime minister has cropped up from time to time.

Days after United States president Barack Obama was elected, becoming the first black president, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked whether Singapore was ready for a non-Chinese PM at a dialogue with Malay-Muslim community leaders.

Mr Lee said he thought it was possible for Singapore to have a non-Chinese PM.

But, he added: "Will it happen soon? I don't think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments - who votes for whom,and what makes him identify with that person - these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it."

He also acknowledged that attitudes towards race had shifted in the last two to three decades as English provided more of a common ground, but said to get to "a position where everyone is totally race-blind and religion-blind, I think that is very difficult. You will not find it in any country in the world."