Provision for minority president protects our social fabric: Chan Chun Sing

The Government has a responsibility to draw up a system that anticipates future challenges, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday (Sept 8).
The Government has a responsibility to draw up a system that anticipates future challenges, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday (Sept 8). PHOTO: ST FILE

The Government has a responsibility to draw up a system that anticipates future challenges, even if there are no major issues now, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

This is why it cannot take a short- term view just to preserve its political capital, but must look at the long-term future of the country, he said at a dialogue in Mandarin in reply to questions on the proposed changes to the elected presidency.

"Being a young country, as we evolve, we have to continually think about whether our systems can meet our present needs and, more importantly, whether they can meet our future needs," he said.

He was explaining why changes to the elected presidency, including to make sure minorities get a chance to be elected from time to time, were necessary, to 120 participants at a dialogue on the National Day Rally by government feedback unit Reach and Lianhe Zaobao.

A Constitutional Commission, in its report released on Wednesday, recommended that a presidential election be reserved for a particular race if there has been no president from that racial group for five continuous terms, as the head of state is a symbol of Singapore and its multiracial society.

Reach chairman and Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan, who was also at the dialogue, said Chinese people may not have considered how their friends of other races might feel if there is no president from their community for some time. He noted that there has not been a Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in office in 1970.

Mr Chan said Singaporeans who are Chinese, as the majority, have a responsibility to bring to the fore issues that those in minority races may feel uncomfortable raising.

He recalled a conversation with a fellow soldier of a minority race during his time in the army. The soldier told Mr Chan "because you are the majority race, you are Chinese, you won't understand this feeling".

This blunt statement was probably made only because they knew each other well, said Mr Chan.

"If we can one day be better than other countries and reach a race- and language-blind society, and we don't need these rules, that's good.

"But before we reach that goal, what can we do to make our systems more robust, protect our social fabric, and not let people divide our society?" he added.

The need for changes to the elected presidency was discussed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally. It was also among the topics that drew interest during online and face-to-face public engagement sessions Reach held in the two weeks after the Rally.

Reach said in a statement yesterday that among the 1,600 pieces of feedback it received were views for and against having safeguards to ensure minority representation.

Some people also felt that raising the minimum yardstick for the value of a private sector company would narrow the pool of potential candidates.

Reach will be organising a series of forums on the elected presidency scheme over the next two months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Provision for minority president 'protects our social fabric''. Print Edition | Subscribe