Thank Goodness for Reality Checks

November 10, 2008

racial-harmonyAs a raving masochist there’s nothing I love more than reality checks. Whenever I begin to float with renewed hope for this world, nothing gives me more perverse pleasure than being sucked down to earth with a spine shuddering thud. Reality checks help reinforce the cynic in me and immunize me against that great big evil monster we in Singapore call ‘idealism’. Get bitten by idealism and sooner or later we all end up rioting, killing, raping, or worst of all, sued to bankruptcy. And there is nothing like listening to the PAP for first-class cold-shower standard reality checks.


It was reported in The Straits Times (9 Nov 08) that, at a Malay grassroots meeting, PM Lee commented on President-elect Obama’s historic victory. There he asked rhetorically,


Can we one day have a non-Chinese, a Malay-Muslim Prime Minister? It’s possible. Will it happen soon? I don’t think so because finally you have to win votes and these sentiments. Who votes for whom and what makes him identify with that person? These are sentiments that do not disappear completely for a long time, even if people did not talk about it or even if people wish they did not feel it.




As reality checks go, this was your nicotine-high variety. After the last of the delicious shivers down my spine faded, several talking points emerged.


Firstly, people have got to stop asking if Singaporeans are ready to select a non-Chinese Prime Minister. Singaporeans do not select their Prime Minister. The Cabinet does. It selected Goh Chok Tong (against LKY’s wishes) and Lee Hsien Loong. As in the Westminster system, the leader of the ruling party becomes the Prime Minister. And if there is a transition of leadership while the ruling party is still incumbent it is the Cabinet that decides as it has done with the last two PMs. There is no referendum or nation-wide vote. So to come out and say that Singaporeans are not ready to select a non-Chinese is inaccurate. The real question should be, is the Cabinet ready to select a non-Chinese PM?


Oh, we can’t select a non-Chinese PM because we believe that Singaporeans aren’t ready yet, and there is no one who knows Singaporeans the way we do, comes the Cabinet’s swift response. Which of course contradicts the argument that the PM gave for rejecting the motion for by-elections in Jurong GRC when Dr Ong Chit Chong passed away in July. In parliament, the PM argued that there was no need for a by-election because one less MP in Jurong did not affect the PAP’s mandate. This was because Singaporeans vote for the party, not the individual. [CNA, Parliament rejects motion to fine-tune electorial system”, 27 Aug 2008] If so, what does it matter that the PM is non-Chinese as long as it is still the PAP?


The quick response would be that a MP is different from a PM. Some folks may be happy with a Malay or Indian MP but not a Malay or Indian PM. This, in turn, contradicts the survey done by the Rajarathnam School of International Studies last year. The survey of 1,824 Singaporeans’ views on inter-racial ties found that 94 per cent of Chinese polled said they would not mind an Indian as prime minister, and 91 per cent said they would not mind a Malay in the top post.


Oh, but the respondents were being politically-correct, say critics. No one wants to admit to strangers that they are prejudiced against ethnic-minorities in leadership positions. Granted, the percentages seem rather high but even this is not a valid reason to believe that the majority of Singaporeans wouldn’t vote for a non-Chinese PM. Just because 94 per cent is too high a figure doesn’t mean that 0, 10, 20, or 30 per cent is the right percentage. It could be 50, 60, 70 or 80 per cent. It’s a logical fallacy (red herring) to say that Singaporeans are not ready just because the 94 per cent figure seems too high. Would it make sense to say the earthquake we felt was nowhere near 8 on the Richter scale, therefore we felt no earthquake at all?


Which brings up another point that PM Lee made. He noted that Americans still voted largely along ethnic lines in the November elections. McCain still got the slim majority of the white vote while Obama got the majority of the Hispanic and Black votes. This is another red herring fallacy. Just because the majority of White Americans did not vote Obama does not mean that a significant number of them did not. This number was significant enough to change history forever. Besides, just because the majority believes in something does not make it right. Progress and progressive values have always been spearheaded by the minority in any society. It’s the majority in any society that is resistant to change and the appeal of PM Lee’s argument rests on this very truth.



4 Responses to “Thank Goodness for Reality Checks”

  1. Desmond Says:

    hear ya, hear ya.

  2. bees Says:

    eh, you go start an opposition party can?

  3. chainsawieldinun Says:

    Isn’t this a rhetorical tactic? I.e., we lose our heards talking about race and how we “cannot… at least not yet” wrt race, and forget about how the message of change (from a bunch of fatcats hogging the White House to someone symbolising — if not emblematising — this new beginning) resonated so much with Americans and Singaporeans!

  4. hi,
    you’re points are well articulated. Given that the Cabinet or the winning party chooses the President’s first minister, PM Lee’s proclamation is, in not so many words, that the PAP is not ready to select a non Chinese person as the PM, even if he/she is most qualified.

    This goes against their mantra of meritocracy. The proclamation can then be viewed as double speak wrt almost every election related stumpspeech.

    It then begs the question if PM Lee is the best qualified for the job, given that meritocracy isn’t the criteria for the office of the PM.

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