Parliament: Changes to EP reflect Singapore's multiracialism

The president's chair, flanked by the state flag and the presidential flag at the Istana.
The president's chair, flanked by the state flag and the presidential flag at the Istana.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE -Singapore must always remain an inclusive society, and the proposed changes to the Elected Presidency reflect the nation's multiracial ideals, said Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) on Monday (Nov 7) in Parliament.

Rising in support of the changes, Mr Murali said the issue was far broader than that of whether a person from a minority group stood a fair chance of being elected president.

The amendments, he said, "represent an important signal to all communities within Singapore that she must always remain an inclusive society".

One of the proposals states that an election will be reserved for a particular racial group if there had not been a president from the group for five terms in a row.

This applies to the Chinese, Malay and the third group made up of Indians and other minority communities.

Mr Murali - one of three MPs who raised Singapore's multiracial fabric as the reason the amendments were necessary - said he saw the five-term hiatus mechanism as a "signal and a safeguard" for inclusiveness.

He noted that the provision for a reserved election would kick in only if the country had gone for 30 years without a president from a minority community.

Under the Constitution, the Government had a responsibility to care for the interests of racial and religious minorities, "in particular that of the Malay community as the indigenous people of Singapore", said Mr Murali.

This responsibility is more pressing with the growing racial intolerance, rising religiosity and extremism around the world. Singapore is not immune to such pressures, he said.

"We cannot assume that we have arrived as a nation, with all inter-communal issues having been resolved forever," Mr Murali said.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson SMC) said the head of state must reflect Singapore's multiracial society. Although the Chinese make up about three-quarters of the population, Singapore is not a Chinese society, she said.

"Non-Chinese Singaporeans are not a 'by the way', we are all an integral part of Singapore," Ms Tin added.

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) said there was value in reserved elections as they were a "safety valve".

The changes would ensure "every generation has a chance to see a president from their own community", he added.

He cited the case of the Group Representation Constituency system, which was controversial when it was introduced in 1988 to guarantee minority representation in Parliament.

"But today, we see their value as a safety check to avoid a freak election result in which every elected MP is of the majority race," said Dr Tan.