Monday, November 10, 2008

PM Lee says it’s possible for S’pore to have minority race Prime Minister

SINGAPORE: Fresh from the historic win of US President—elect Barrack Obama, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it’s possible for the country to have a minority race Prime Minister. But, in his first public comment on the subject, Mr Lee said he does not think it will happen anytime soon.

Speaking at a dialogue session with grassroots leaders from the Malay community on Saturday, Mr Lee also touched on the implications of protectionist policies for the local workforce, amidst the current downturn.

It was a historic day when Barrack Obama became the first elected African—American US President. But Mr Lee pointed out that Obama’s victory does not mean race is no longer an issue in the US.

He noted poll results showed Republican John McCain secured most of the white votes while Obama scored with the Latin, Asian and African—American electorate.

And in Singapore, he believes the reality is that race—based voting patterns will remain.
Mr Lee said: "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."

Mr Lee added that although the situation today is very different from 20 to 30 years ago, no country in the world is totally race or religion—blind.

PM Lee continued: "The population’s attitudes have shifted because English is more of a common ground, because the new generation is better educated and I think they can see that there are successful people of all races.

“But to become a position where everybody is totally race—blind and religion—blind, I think that’s very difficult. You will not find it in any country in the world.”
34—year—old Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad was more optimistic.

He said: "I agree with PM that a candidate for prime minister has to be based on ability and acceptance by the majority of Singaporeans. I think today with the younger generation who’ve gone through post—independence Singapore, I think they are a lot more accepting and race—blind.

“In my lifetime, I’m not sure I will see one, but I think if someone comes forth with the right ability and proven track record, it could be a reality."

Foreign workers was another hot topic.
Participants were concerned that they are taking up precious jobs from locals amidst the current downturn.

However, Mr Lee said that foreign workers took the brunt of job lay—offs in the last recession between 2001 and 2003 and if it wasn’t for them, the unemployment rate among Singaporeans would have been much higher.

He said: "If we just send away the foreign workers now, it will do us harm. For example — companies which are already in difficulty and they hire half foreign workers and half Singaporeans and you tell them that foreign workers must go out. And when you take Singaporeans, his cost will go up and the company may close. And if the company closes, even the half who have jobs may lose their jobs.

“So I don’t think it’s that simple. You send out the foreign workers and the Singaporeans will take over the jobs and you get paid more. I think our interest is to protect the Singaporeans and look after the Singaporeans but we must do it intelligently, we cannot just react and do something without thinking."

Mr Lee also advised workers to hold on to regular jobs which contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for better long term financial protection.

He cautions that even though contract or odd jobs may enable workers to take home more pay, it’s much riskier given the current uncertain job market. — CNA/vm

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