Wah, came home from wet and stormy US East Coast to find real heat at home! And I’m not even talking about the weather!
A blogger by the name of Bertha Henson responded to the election of Halimah Yacob as President in anger. She says she is mad over the whole saga. That her election under the Reserved Presidency assumes Singaporeans will vote on the basis of race. That it goes against the whole principle of meritocracy that we so preciously guarded. Apparently, Ms Henson lives in a dream world. La La Land, that is.
I checked with my media friends who she is. She was apparently formerly a senior editor from the nation’s flagship paper Straits Times. So she was from the establishment before, writing pieces to paint the Government in a good light. She was said to have been ousted, because she was deemed unsuitable for editorship. She had earlier failed as an editor of a small newspaper but her bosses were nice to her and she didn’t get the sack. It is therefore not surprising such people are bitter about the establishment.
What also didn’t surprise me, of course, is the shallow understanding of real politics, typical of such newsroom writers. They never had to run anything. They never had to manage conflicting communities. They never understood that a society without prejudice is just an ideal and that there are sacrifices and adjustments to be made to get there. They all live in the artificial world where Snow White will find her prince and all men and women are treated equal and they live happily ever after. In short, they know nothing about real politics. Chances are they have never really talked to heartlanders or been to a Meet-the-People Session.
The last few weeks, I have also seen quite a few people who have been quick to point to our great Pledge. Regardless of race, language, religion, they cited. Some are very quick in pointing to how much Lee Kuan Yew had wanted a society based on justice and equality. Sure, we all want to achieve that. Good to have, hard to get.
But more important, they have also mostly ignored what Lee actually said about equality. Being a pragmatic man himself, the founding Prime Minister never had misguided illusions about how we can all become equal overnight. He even specifically said, “The convention of rotating the Presidency among the races was important to remind Singaporeans that their country was multiracial…It’s a symbolic expression of our national identity.”
These people have conveniently forgotten what Lee had also said about the pledge being only an aspiration and we may get to where we want to go in 100, 200 years or even never. Watch his 2009 rebuttal of Viswa Sadasivan in Parliament. It’s on Youtube. so do not selectively quote my hero!
Real, absolute meritocracy is a myth. It is, like the pledge, an aspiration and hopefully we aim towards getting there.
Do not be too quick to cite the Americans because they are more flawed than us. Their democracy, that is. When they can elect an orange (not a lemon yet!) of a president who won less popular votes than his establishment opponent, are they really the beacon of democracy and meritocracy? George Bush won the presidency too with fewer votes than his opponent in 2000. What are we talking about? At least, our election system is first past the post and the one with most votes wins.
If we want to talk about minorities – minority races and women, America only gave the votes to the Blacks in 1965. We had universal suffrage way before them! Our women were allowed to vote from day one. American women had to wait another 150 years or so after independence before they could get their vote. Interestingly, it was pointed out last week at the IPS forum that out of the 2,000 or so Senators in US from day one, only 10 were blacks. I was pretty shocked to read about that number and made a check and found it to be true! In today’s Senate of 100 members, only three are blacks. Obama received 95 per cent of the black votes in 2012. His opponent won the white majority. So much for race not being a factor.
But back to Singapore, let’s talk about real meritocracy. If we truly believe in real meritocracy and that minorities can be left on their own, then be prepared to make some real economic and social adjustments. First, remove the special rights for the minorities in our Constitution since we want to talk about “regardless of race, language and religion.’’ We all know what it could all mean. No special discount for land allotted to Mosque? No special help for minorities in schools and tertiary education? Close broadcast and newspapers for minorities since they have been loss-making and funded by taxpayers for decades? Top Chinese-funded schools allowed to choose their own students and not offer places to others. No need for Fair Employment Act that penalises discriminatory hiring. Do not have to worry about whether Malay ratio in the population is maintained at 14 per cent and Indians are 8 per cent since we are all Singaporeans. Are we ready for all that?
If we truly believe in a Singaporean Singapore, are you prepared to vote for a recent PRC citizen with a Shanghainese accent as your Prime Minister or Indian born Singaporean as your President? Would you want a recent Afghan refugee with a long beard as your MP?
So to political zombies like Miss Henson, get real. As my hero LKY loves to say, “Grow Up!’’