National Day Rally 2016: Important for Singapore to have minority race President from time to time

Former president Yusof Ishak in Bukit Timah in 1961. PHOTO: NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - It is important for Singapore to have a Malay, Indian or another minority race President from time to time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 21).

Mr Lee, who spoke in Malay at the start of his National Day Rally, drove home the point that as a multiracial society, the minority races in Singapore have to feel they are well-represented in Singapore's political system.

"That is why we created GRCs (Group Representation Constituency), to ensure that there will always be MPs from minority races in Parliament... now we are looking into the same issue for the elected president," he said, referring to the Government's ongoing review of the elected presidency.

"I believe this assurance is important not just to minority communities, but also to all Singaporeans.

"Previously, when the President was elected by Parliament, we could ensure that all groups of Singaporeans could become President from time to time. So we had Encik Yusof Ishak, Prof Benjamin Sheares, Mr Devan Nair and Mr Wee Kim Wee.

"But now that the President is elected in a national election, it is harder for a non-Chinese to get elected as President."

The Elected Presidency was introduced in 1991, and grants the President custodial powers in areas such as safeguarding Singapore's reserves and key public-sector appointments.

"If it happens naturally, like it did with (former) president S R Nathan (who was elected unopposed), that is good. But if it does not happen for a long time, minorities will feel disappointment, and rightly so," Mr Lee said.

"The issue can be politicised and manipulated to provoke ill-feelings in minority communities and divide us in future. We must make the changes now and take action while it is peaceful and the society is united."

Describing the President as a "symbol of our nation" in his Malay speech, Mr Lee stressed that every Singaporean must feel that someone of his race can become the President, and does become President, adding that the same stringent criteria will be applied to any presidential candidate regardless of his race.

Mr Lee said: "With that assurance, the President can play his role to unite Singaporeans. That was what Encik Yusof Ishak stood for. As President, he represented all Singaporeans."

Mr Lee revealed that the mosque in Woodlands named after Mr Yusof, who was Singapore's first President, is almost ready and will open in the first quarter of 2017.

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