If you’ve grown up with an older sibling, you’ll know this feeling very well. I’m the eldest in my family and so I know I’ve done this many times before.
Whenever my younger siblings wanted to join in and play with me whilst I was in the middle of a very serious video game, I’d pretend to plug the second controller in and let her believe she’s actually contributing.
That’s exactly what many Singaporeans feel about the President of Singapore. I’m sure he (or well now, she) has got more responsibilities than playing pretend, but we’ll never truly know how much sway and power he/she actually gets.
As many a meme has now confirmed, the next President has just been “chosen” (that’s another debate for another day) and all the hullaballoo prior to that was mainly because of the very unique criteria that she had to meet in order to be considered as a candidate.
The main one being that she had to be Malay.
We’re a multi-racial country and we don’t discriminate, although we all know the stereotypes that follow each race and joke about them from time to time. Reserving an entire election for one ethnicity however, is a little wanting.
It does seem like a pity play to some of the Malays whom I’ve spoken to. Some believe that the President doesn’t really do much and is basically a figure of the state to appease their community and build positive rapport.
And although some appreciate the gesture, they feel like it’s got to do with certain recent remarks about the health and diet of the minority races. They also recall a previous late leader, leaving some less than desired remarks in his biography.
However, they too feel that the entire idea of allocating the Presidency to their ethnicity is racist. Racist because it defeats the meritocratic values that our governance is built upon.
One interviewee even went so far as to say that as a Malay, he knows firsthand what the qualities of his people are, and that the stereotypes that exist are true to a certain extent, which could possibly explain why we haven’t had a Malay President in a long time.
He explains that Malays tend to prioritise family and community, placing more emphasis on their time together than in entrepreneurial endeavours. It’s not to imply that other ethnicities care less for their families, but to think that perhaps there are other reasons for the lack of a Malay President, and not just because the particular race is a minority.
His point was made when he asked, “wouldn’t it be better then if the election just stayed open to all the races in Singapore? Wouldn’t we have a bigger pool of talent to choose from? And even if it wasn’t somebody Malay who ends up as President, would that be so wrong?”
Many of those interviewed questioned the idea of racial harmony. That despite the government having good intentions of cycling through ethnicities, it does seem to segregate more than it does unite.
In all, a majority of the Malays whom I spoke to identify themselves as Singaporeans first and Malays second. And although their loyalties lie with their community, their community is part of a greater sum.
Race aside, we congratulate Madam Halimah Yacob on her new role and if there’s any silver lining to all of this, we’ve now got our first female President!