SINGAPORE - The change to the Constitution to set aside reserved presidential elections for minorities will help ensure that Singapore's multi-racial society stays afloat, and is among one of the unique stabilisers in the country's political system, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).
Speaking at the National Day Dinner in his Marine Parade ward, he said the Government has adapted the Westminster parliamentary system to local conditions over the years, introducing such "Singapore-style innovations" to stabilise a free-wheeling democratic process.
Citing other such stabilisers, he said the Elected Presidency itself serves as a check against a populist and profligate government, the system of Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs ensures that at least one in five MPs will always be non-People's Action Party MPs, and the GRC system guarantees a fair number of minority MPs in Parliament.
"If these stabilisers are not introduced to our political system, our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms," he said.
Singapore will hold its first reserved presidential election next month, which will be open only to candidates from the Malay community. This comes after the elected presidency system, first introduced in 1991, was changed to ensure that the highest office in the land is representative of the country's multi-racialism.
Mr Goh was speaking about the importance of keeping politics resilient, bold, forward-looking and inclusive of all races and different political opinions.
He said this was one of the key factors that will determine how Singapore fares as it deals with the internal challenge of "climbing up another rung of success at high altitude" and external challenges like terrorism and a changing world order.
Also key to Singapore's survival are having a robust leadership pipeline, and a cohesive and fair multi-racial society, said Mr Goh who spoke in English and Mandarin.
On leadership, he said that since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is 65 this year, has said that he will step down by age 70, the fourth generation political leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify their team captain.
He added that Singaporeans will want to know what they stand for, what kind of country they want to build, and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later.
He also urged them to build a stronger and more inclusive team, saying: "They must try their utmost to bring in potential office holders from outside the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve."
Finally, Mr Goh said, meritocracy must remain a key pillar of society to guard against social inequity, a deep fault line in many countries.
But while meritocracy in Singapore's early days of development had produced the desired results, and helped the brightest and most hardworking to rise to the top, leaving it alone will entrench the successful and widen the income gap, he warned.
To avoid this, the Government must intervene and ensure the meritocratic process serves its purpose, just as it has done for the political system, he said.
Policies such as subsidies for housing, healthcare and education as well as a focus on skills rather than academic grades have gone some way to narrow the income divide, and PM Lee's emphasis on early childhood development programmes can help nip the problem in the bud, he added.
"Our Government is expending immense resources to make Singapore more fair and equal, while guarding against the downsides of a generous welfare state," said Mr Goh urging people not to abuse the schemes and develop an entitlement mentality.
He added that Singapore has achieved outstanding success so far "not because we are inherently smarter or more talented than others", but because of common values, political stability, national cohesion and good governance.
Also, each generation worked and sacrificed for the next generation, he said.
Describing this as the "Singapore secret", he said the fourth generation of leaders "have their work cut out for them".
But he added that they will inherit a political system in good working order.
"The fourth generation leaders must be able to grow the economy, create jobs, resolve everyday livelihood issues, check divisive trends in society, give hope and improve the lives of all Singaporeans. They will have to build their own social compact with the people," said Mr Goh.
"They will have to bequeath a fair and multi-racial society to the generation after them."