Minister in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim, appealed to the Malay community to allow the Elected Presidency to evolve and develop. He made the appeal at a dialogue organised by Reach with tertiary students, and in response to a question if the upcoming presidential election (which has been reserved for Malay candidates) is “mere tokenism”.
In his answer to the question, the Minister also remarked that “for the elected president, you don’t just pick up somebody from Geylang Serai – the person must qualify, the person must earn the respect of all Singaporeans.”
The Minister’s remark about “somebody from Geylang Serai” has irked some netizens. Prominent Malay activist, Nizam Ismail, commented on the Minister’s remark to say that it is “derogatory” and “regrettable”. Nizam made the comment in the Facebook page ‘Suara Melayu‘.
Responding to Nizam’s post, Dr Paul Tambyah of the SDP said: “Some of Singapore’s most distinguished citizens are from Geylang Serai.”
While Facebook user Jamil Amin said: “Yaacob’s blinkered views of Geylang Serai mirrors his disconnect with the man on the street.”
The Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, which paved the way for a Malay candidate to be elected at the next Presidential Election (PE) was passed last week. According to the Amendment, the PE will be reserved for a racial group if it is not represented for 5 terms. The Government recognised President Wee Kim Wee as the first president to exercise the powers under the new Elected Presidency act under the new mechanism. This ensured the reservation of the PE (to be held in September this year) for a minority race from the Malay community.
The Minister also said at the dialogue that the policy is not cast in stone.
“One day, the Government might change its mind and decide that this reserved election doesn’t work. You never know.”
In saying that he will not contest the PE, Dr Yaacob said that his preference is for an open election “where a Malay could actually win the EP on his or her own merit”. But he said that tribal tendencies among Singaporean voters “are still very strong” and “run deep”, which may prevent the election of a minority candidate. Not having a minority candidate as the Elected President is a risk the Government does not wish to take he said.
“So how you ensure that the imbalance doesn’t become a burden on the minority is something which the Government has to think about all the time.”
He added that the Malay community is concerned “not just about the president, but also Malay permanent secretary, Malay general… because we want to see representation across the entire Singaporean life”.