Singaporeans recognise merit over race

I have been following the discussions on the elected presidency with great interest.

I firmly believe that any artificial construct to ensure the election of a minority president will not stand the test of time.

If the strength of the main political party weakens, such a construct will become a political hot potato.

Any long-lasting solution must have the full support of the people, irrespective of their political allegiance.

The people of Singapore recognise merit. Over the years, we have seen members of minority groups win the votes of the majority groups - opposition politician J. B. Jeyaretnam won a seat in Parliament, against tremendous odds; and, most recently, Mr Murali Pillai had a comfortable win in the Bukit Batok by-election ("PAP holds on to Bukit Batok, with 61.2% of the vote"; Sunday).

A good minority candidate has a chance to be elected president.

The only way to fight prejudice is through robust promotion of multiculturalism. This is a slow process, but all groups can make greater effort to understand the culture and language of others.

In the meantime, it may not be a bad idea to have two candidates of different races running on the same ticket, with one of them being the president and the other the vice-president ("Dhanabalan proposes two-man presidential team"; last Saturday).

This would help assuage the fears of some among the minority communities.

The vice-president must have the qualifications to be president, as Singapore has never practised tokenism, and must never do so.

Gopinath Pillai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Singaporeans recognise merit over race'. Print Edition | Subscribe