Bilingual policy 'our cultural ballast'

As children, Senior Minister of State Masagos Zulkifli and his siblings were described as "Lee Kuan Yew's children" by an uncle in Malaysia. The uncle felt his younger relatives, who had remained in Singapore after separation from Malaysia in 1965, may be unfairly treated in a country with a Chinese majority, and had coined the phrase to tease them.

Recalling this in Parliament yesterday, Mr Masagos said in Malay: "Before he passed away...my uncle still teased us as Lee Kuan Yew's children. However, this time he added that he was proud and full of admiration because we were able to become professionals and could compete in the Lion City with the other races."

His story was among several recounted by Members of Parliament representing different ethnic groups, as they lauded Mr Lee Kuan Yew for delivering on his vision of a united society regardless of race, language or religion.

Mr Masagos said at a special Parliament sitting to pay tribute to Singapore's first Prime Minister that such a society has allowed the Malay-Muslim community to practise its religion peacefully.

It has also "safeguarded" the community's self-esteem by proving its members could attain success through their own merit, instead of through favouritism, he added, choking with emotion.

Religious and world leaders he had met have expressed admiration for it, he said, adding: "This is the identity of Singapore Muslims that was built by Mr Lee."

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said Mr Lee's conviction about multi-racialism had been an "immense assurance" to minority groups.

The Eurasian community, despite being one of the smallest here, had "made their way in our nation, taking opportunities presented to them, on merit".

This was also the case for Singaporean Indians, who make up only 10 per cent of the population, said Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) in Tamil.

He pointed out the Tamil language is one of Singapore's official languages, and that this was provided for in the Constitution because of Mr Lee's multiracial and multilingual policies.

Minister of State Sim Ann also spoke about how Mr Lee had made sure each ethnic group studied its mother tongue language, on top of Singapore's working language: English. This policy of bilingualism had ensured Singapore could preserve its "cultural ballast" while still creating a "common space" to "unite all races".

Adjusting to this had been painful for some, Ms Sim conceded, but bilingualism had laid the foundation for harmonious communication between all races, she said.

"He has led us on the road to bilingualism, in pursuit of unity as one people, the preservation of our cultural ballast, and ease of interaction with the world."


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