Meritocracy, racial harmony not in conflict

Meritocracy has been a core principle of Singapore ever since independence.

It has given the underprivileged the opportunity to excel in life, and is a principle that has served us well.

In Singapore, racial harmony is arguably a more important principle than meritocracy, as a chance for an equal footing to succeed in life does not have as wide an appeal if one has to live in fear because of one's race.

When these principles come into conflict with each other, one of them has to be subordinate to the other.

But in the case of the elected presidency, there is no such conflict.

Meritocracy need not take a back seat for the sake of racial harmony, as Singapore's record the past few decades has been sterling.

Putting in place policies that uphold one over the other, to pre-empt concerns in certain communities, can be a slippery slope and may erode the nation's core principles.

Goh Eck Hong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'Meritocracy, racial harmony not in conflict'. Print Edition | Subscribe