Reserved Election: Striking a delicate balance between meritocracy and multiracialism

Hopefuls for the 8th President of Singapore, Mr Salleh Marican, Mdm Halimah Yacob and Mr Farid Khan Source: Business Insider

How do you balance the two concepts of meritocracy and multiracialism, and make people feel at ease with it?

The reserved election this year hasn’t been sitting quite well with a large proportion of the people in Singapore because it goes against the principle of meritocracy.

But the Singapore Government has decided to make an unpopular decision and pay a political price for it. And they are determined to help people understand why they’re doing this.

It is not the first time the Government is taking an interventionist approach to manage race relations in Singapore.

They have intervened in the way we live by ensuring an ethnic mix in HDB estates to help promote racial integration and harmony.

While it may sound like they are are forcing people from different racial communities to integrate, they have succeeded in helping people live harmoniously despite the differences.

At a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies yesterday, Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing said that multiracialism and meritocracy cannot be mutually exclusive for Singapore. 

“It is two concepts that we have to constantly find the balance.”

Dr Puthucheary, who was also at the forum, said people should not ask to lower or change the standards in a reserved election.

If the eligibility criteria is weakened which means the benchmark is lowered to allow other candidates to qualify, then meritocracy is compromised.

Mr Chan added that having different rules for different races will upset the balance.

“I don’t think Singaporeans would like to see us having different rules for different races because that would have shifted the balance too much (towards) multiracialism, without balancing the considerations for meritocracy.”

If we continue to uphold the standards of the reserved election, this would mean that Madam Halimah would automatically qualify as a public individual.

The other two male candidates will probably not make the cut as they seem to fall short of the $500 million shareholder equity required.

A walkover for Singapore’s first reserved election is highly possible.

In the 2005 Presidential Election, Stephen Ooi Boon Ewe and Andrew Kuan Yoke Loon were disqualified by the Presidential Elections Committee for failing to meet the eligibility criteria. S R Nathan was re-elected as President for the second term.

Singapore has indeed come a long way in achieving multiracialism but we must not forget that this was not left to natural forces.

According to a 2016 Channel NewsAsia and Institute of Policy Studies (CNA-IPS) survey on race, 96 per cent of the Chinese can accept a Chinese President while 68 per cent can accept an Indian President.

Only 59 per cent of the Chinese population can accept a Malay President.

If it’s true that people are still inherently bias towards their own race, is it wrong to ring-fence the election for our minority races?

Or should we wait another few more terms before the society is matured and open-minded enough to vote for a non-Chinese in an open election?

The bigger question is: Can we afford to wait?

By then, will the future generation of Singapore leaders have the liberty and luxury of time and space for them to implement a system without causing turmoil in the country?

This “hiatus-triggered” model seeks to ensure minority representation in the Presidency.

If the various races in Singapore have a chance to be President at least once in every 30 years, then we won’t be having a reserved election again.

Singapore has always been pragmatic and forward looking even if it means making unpopular decisions. And if this is our secret to success, we must continue to build on this.

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