At the right time, and when enough Singaporeans are open to the idea, the country will have a prime minister from an ethnic minority, and this is something the Government hopes for, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.
At a dialogue at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Mr Heng said it is a positive sign that young people are comfortable with having a minority-race PM because the Singapore way of "re-gardless of race, language or religion" has been an emphasis in the system for so long.
But based on his interactions with people during the past two general elections in 2011 and 2015, and the by-elections in Hougang in 2012 and Punggol East in 2013 - a wide spectrum of residents from different languages, races and income groups - such views are not as common as they are among the younger generation, he added.
Mr Heng was responding to a question from Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt of NTU's Public Policy and Global Affairs programme about whether it was Singapore or the ruling People's Action Party that was unprepared for a PM from a minority community.
Late last year, Mr Heng was selected by his peers among the fourth-generation political office-holders to be their leader, and is tipped to be the next PM.
Following up on the question, Mr Heng asked the audience for a show of hands on whether they would be happy to have a non-Chinese PM.
Many raised their hands.
Mr Heng said: "I will say that it is a very positive sign that the young people will be quite comfortable, precisely because our policy of regardless of race, language, religion has been an emphasis in our system for so long. So that is why our young people grow up in a very different way and therefore you are quite ready. I do think that at the right time, when enough people think that way, we would have, we may have, a minority who becomes the leader of the country."
Citing his interactions with different groups of people during the elections, he added: "But if you ask me, that whether across the voting population, would that be the outcome, I personally don't think so."
Turning to the issue of the 2017 presidential election being reserved for a candidate from the Malay community, Mr Heng said: "It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally, that we recognise that we have not arrived and it is important for us to ensure that we have the safeguard."