'Race and religion are very deep-seated realities in every country'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong engages students from Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in a dialogue session.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong engages students from Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in a dialogue session. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

The supporters of Republican candidate Donald Trump are overwhelmingly white and casting a white protest vote, while black voters are turning out in force for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

His reading of the United States presidential election was delivered in Parliament yesterday, hours before America headed to the polls.

"What is the election about? At one level, it is about globalisation, jobs, insecurity, but on another level, race is front and centre," he told the House as he made the argument that race and religion are very deep- seated realities in every country.

Mr Lee's point was that race matters in national elections, in Singapore as in America.

He drew lessons from the superpower's experience to argue that Singapore should take steps to ensure that its presidency will be multiracial.

Tracing how the dynamics of race played out in the US' recent elections, he noted how black voters backed former president Bill Clinton when he first stood for election in 1992 against the incumbent George H. W. Bush.

 

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Mr Lee recalled how Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, a female African-American novelist, "described Bill Clinton rapturously as 'the first black president' ".

Years later in 2008, Mrs Hillary Clinton - Mr Clinton's wife - ran against Mr Barack Obama for the Democrat nomination.

Mr Clinton repeated the phrase, describing himself as "the first black president", to shore up support for his wife.

"He thought it would help. Instead, he caused an uproar in the African-American community," said Mr Lee, noting that the community voted overwhelmingly for Mr Obama, who became president.

His presidency was considered a breakthrough for African-Americans, and some people commented that race no longer mattered in American politics.

But they were too optimistic, said Mr Lee, turning to the current election with its two white candidates.

Supporters of Mr Trump are overwhelmingly white, lower- and middle-income voters, he observed.

"They feel threatened by the demographic changes happening in America. Theirs is a white protest vote," he said.

Mr Lee said African-American voters are overwhelmingly voting for Mrs Clinton this time, but with somewhat less enthusiasm than when they voted for Mr Obama.

Latino voters as a group are voting against Mr Trump and turning out in big numbers because they see that perhaps Mr Trump may win if they don't vote, he added.

"The moral of this story is that race and religion are very deep-seated realities in every country. We must take them very seriously," said Mr Lee.

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline ''Race and religion are very deep-seated realities in every country''. Print Edition | Subscribe