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Many older Singaporeans not ready for minority-race PM, says Heng Swee Keat: reports

Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (FILE PHOTO: Reuters/Feline Lim)
Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (FILE PHOTO: Reuters/Feline Lim)

While younger Singaporeans are increasingly comfortable with the idea of having a minority-race prime minister, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat believes that the older generation are still resistant and unable to accept this notion.

He also believes that, when enough Singaporeans are open to this idea, the country will have a prime minister from a minority race, and this is something the government hopes will happen at the right time.

According to Today Online, Heng – who is next in line to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – was responding to a query from Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, who was among the audience at a forum held at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Thursday (28 March).

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Walid, who is from NTU’s School of Social Sciences’ public policy and global affairs programme, had pointed out that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was a popular choice to take on the top job, based on his constituency’s elections results.

Tharman has helmed the Jurong GRC since 2001, and garnered 79.3 per cent of votes during the 2015 general election.

Tharman a popular choice for PM in survey

A survey conducted by market research consultancy Blackbox in 2016, which was commissioned by Yahoo News Singapore, also found that he was the top choice among Singaporeans to succeed PM Lee, with 69 per cent of almost 900 respondents choosing him.

However, Heng said that, based on his interactions with the public during the 2011 and 2015 general elections as well as the by-elections in Hougang in 2012 and Punggol East in 2013, such views are less common among the older generation.

According to The Straits Times, he said, “My own experience in walking the ground, in working with different people from all walks of life, is that the views – if you go by age and by life experience – would be very different.

“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.”

Reserving presidential candidates from minority communities

Walid also asked Heng if the government was sending out contradictory messages by reserving the 2017 presidential election for candidates from the Malay community, while stating that Singapore is not ready for a prime minister from a minority race.

According to Today, Heng stressed that the messages were not contradictory, and added, “It is precisely because we need to place this emphasis institutionally that we recognise that we have not arrived. It is important for us to ensure that we have that safeguard.”

Related story:

Most Singaporeans would choose Tharman as the next Prime Minister: survey