Singapore GE2020: Shanmugam gives take on race relations, PAP loss in Sengkang

Mr Shanmugam was re-elected as an MP for Nee Soon GRC for a third time, with 61.9 per cent of the vote share. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

It is clear the younger generation takes a different approach to race relations, and that deserves more attention, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

Considering how this generation will be the country's future leaders, he said: "We need to come to a framework that works for Singapore, that takes into account how people feel that there's a different way of discussing these things beyond the traditional.

"We need to work out what the trade-offs are and see what's the approach."

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to reporters the day after Friday's general election, during a walkabout to thank residents for the People's Action Party's (PAP) win in Nee Soon GRC.

His remarks come in the wake of a closely fought campaign in the new Sengkang GRC, where the Workers' Party (WP) secured 52.13 per cent of the votes against a PAP team led by labour chief Ng Chee Meng.

The winning WP team in Sengkang includes Ms Raeesah Khan. On July 5, the police said they were investigating Ms Raeesah after two police reports were filed against her for comments she had made on social media in 2018 and May this year. The comments, the police said, allegedly promoted "enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race".

On the same day, Ms Raeesah apologised for making "insensitive" and "improper" remarks.

Asked if the PAP's comments on the issue and Ms Raeesah's candidacy had backfired in Sengkang, Mr Shanmugam declined to comment.

Speaking in a broader sense, he said: "I think the older generation of Singaporeans takes one approach to how issues of race and religion are discussed, and they have a framework within the law. But it's also clear that the younger generation takes a different approach.

"And I think we need to find a way in which those aspirations and viewpoints can be dealt with, because the younger generation of Singaporeans are going to be in charge of Singapore, and their views on how these things ought to be discussed need to get a substantial degree of attention too."

The results in Sengkang, Mr Shanmugam said, were not that surprising.

He said: "There has always been a very substantive desire in the population, going back for a very long time, for two things: the PAP Government in power, and opposition presence in Parliament. That's been a very strong desire for the longest time. That's not that surprising in the context of Sengkang."

Asked about the fall in the PAP's vote share to 61.24 per cent - an 8.7 point swing from 69.9 per cent in the 2015 polls - Mr Shanmugam said the results required careful study.

"In all these things are clearly messages that voters are sending us. It will be wrong if we don't understand the messages. And I think it requires a lot of soul-searching and reflection," he said.

Mr Shanmugam was re-elected as an MP for Nee Soon GRC for a third time, with 61.9 per cent of the votes.

He led a team comprising Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Mr Louis Ng, Mr Derrick Goh and Ms Carrie Tan against the Progress Singapore Party.

Mr Shanmugam said it was a good campaign and he was glad the people of Nee Soon had given his team their mandate.

"We will work very hard to make sure their trust is justified," he said, adding that they had already started fulfilling Yishun Link residents' overnight requests for incense burners, even though the town council has not officially taken over the area.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2020, with the headline Shanmugam gives take on race relations, PAP loss in Sengkang. Subscribe