Saturday, November 08, 2008

Race and Political Leadership in Singapore

Here's a decent article about this on ST (Nov 9 2008): Non-Chinese PM?

This fact in the article caught my eye:

Last year, a survey of 1,824 Singaporeans' views on inter-racial ties by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies 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.

It is very intriguing to me what goes on in the mind(s) of our political leadership of the PAP.

1) How does Lee Hsien Loong reconcile his statements with the study (pdf file) that effectively says nobody really cares what race our Prime Minister is? (I have some issues with that study, but that is something for later) Does he have more polling information that tells him otherwise?

2) Does Lee Hsien Loong truly believe that if the PAP were to offer a non-chinese as the potential next Prime Minister at the next General Election, that the backlash would be so severe that i) this individual would not be voted into his/her constituency (possible) or; ii) the PAP gets voted out of power (very unlikely) *just because* of this choice of a leader? Does he really believe Singaporeans are such racial bigots that we would gladly rather vote into power people unready to govern? (WP is the closest thing to an alternative governing party, but even they have demonstrated very little to the public about their readiness and willingness to govern the country).

3) Is Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging that we are still far from the "harmonious multi-racial" society that the PAP keeps proclaiming but refuses to allow people to talk about it? If we are so racially harmonious, why are they still afraid this foundation of society be turned into chaos because of a few extreme views? Are we as a society still mired in hidden layers of racial bigotry?

4) When our political leaders make comments like these, how often are these really backed by well-organized studies? When they say "no no no ... this will be chaos!", is that what studies show people will behave? Or is it merely how they *believe* people will behave?

Some personal comments about race:

I consider myself a closet racist. I think that way because I find myself in a state of discomfort when I interact with people from a culture I do not understand or I do not agree with (probably due to a lack of understanding).

In Singapore, where I am part of the racial majority, the closest thing to a cross-cultural experience I had was when my army S1 Capt. Krishnan invited us to his house. Back home, I never talked to others about their race, culture, history or belief systems. In part, I was nervous about government OB markers on such topics. It was also due to the fact that as a member of the racial majority, I hid within my own community (many people do, majority or minority).

It is only when I was in the US, when I was a minority, that I began to experience a flowering of "multi-culturalism". It helped a lot that the University campus environment is highly international. It also helped that the town (society along with the local government and leadership) had nurtured a culture very supportive of spontaneous cultural exchange of ideas (not the kind of formalized "inter-cultural" wayang the Singapore government engages in). Lots of people of all races are genuinely curious, asking me about my ethnicity, where I am from, what life is like, what I believe in. This takes place in almost any casual setting. As a result, I have learnt to also ask other people the same, to find out more about them and their lives. People are seldom judgmental and when they are, it typically becomes a matter of discourse as opposed to contention, a clearing of any misunderstanding as opposed to the heightening of tensions. We never suffer the chaos that PAP leaders often publicly fear. At the very worst, I imagine raised voices and ruffled feathers. Even these, I have never encountered in my many years here, even when the topic was religion which some people feel strongly about.

We in Singapore like to think of ourselves as multi-cultural. In fact, we are dwarfed by the scale of the multi-cultural scene in the US. For the most part, people of the same races and ethnicities tend to stick together and not interact. It is in more international campus towns like Champaign-Urbana where there is hope that we will all one day find sufficient commonality to feel strongly that we are all brothers and sisters of this world and that our differences enriches us rather than divide us.


The Remover of Obstacles said...

You should read the PAP manifesto from the fifties to the years after the millenium.One agenda will always remain ,to have absolute control over the Singapore Citizenry.Divide and role.Another pole you should check out is how Chinese Singaporeans feel about intermarriage.You will then see the co-relation with Lee's latest comments.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Thanks, I've only read their 2006 manifesto (and not very deeply). I'll have to check the rest out ... as I recall, they seemed rather uninteresting.

Chee Wai Lee said...

The thing about intermarriage kinda answers part of my gripe with that study "Ties that Bind". Given the overwhelming numbers (opinions in the 90%+ range tend to be suspect) supporting the idea that a non-chinese PM does not matter, I had wondered if the study methodology was flawed in some fashion (eg. people were not willing to tell the truth in-person). It would seem people do not shy away from saying they have issues with intermarriage.

It would be interesting to see if LHL actually bases his arguments on that point. I do not believe he does so though. The only connection I can draw between intermarriage and choosing a non-chinese prime minister (if people were telling the truth in the first instance and lying in the second) is pure racism.