COMMENT: Dearth of candidates in presidential race a worrying sign

The Istana is the official residence of Singapore’s president. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

The Malay community in Singapore should stop bickering about the “Malayness” of the three potential candidates for September’s presidential election.

What is of greater concern is that despite the election being reserved for Malay candidates, only two – Salleh Marican and Farid Khan – have stepped forward to announce their intentions to run. The third, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, has only hinted that she is looking to run for the nation’s highest office.

The fact that only two individuals from the private sector have announced their intentions is indeed worrying for the Malay community. Could this be seen as the Malay community being incapable of producing enough potential leaders to serve our country?

To be fair, the requirement for private-sector candidates to have been heads of companies with paid-up capitals of $500 million in shareholders’ equity on average over three years immediately disqualifies most Singaporeans, regardless of their race.

This issue aside, I have been talking to community leaders to better understand if there really is a dearth in potential Malay leaders here. Most of them pointed out that there are successful individuals who are more than capable of performing the duties of a president.

Names such as Shafie Shamsuddin, CEO of PT Trans Retail, which operates the Carrefour supermarket in Indonesia, and Bahren Shaari, CEO of the Bank of Singapore, were brought up. Former Members of Parliament such as Zainul Abidin Rasheed and Abdullah Tarmugi were also mentioned.

To date, however, none of these individuals has stepped forward to announce an interest to contest the election.
 
Community showing signs of progress

But are they the only Malay candidates capable of competing in the election?

The Malay community has made tremendous progress since independence. There are more Malays now holding important roles in the Singapore Armed Forces. We have successful Malay businessmen and scientists. The number of Malay graduates has been increasing throughout the years. We even have two full ministers in the Cabinet heading important ministries.

But despite all these achievements, I think it is a shame that, thus far, only two members of the community have stepped forward to throw their hats into the ring.

It is like looking for a top striker to play in our national football team. Despite all the efforts made, the team have been unable to find someone capable of filling Fandi Ahmad’s boots.

I have heard of complaints from the community that Singapore should have a Malay president again.

“It is time. I think a Malay president should be elected as it is a symbol of our community’s success throughout the years,” said a friend of mine a few years ago.

She pointed out that it is only fair that a Malay is given a chance to head the republic, pointing out that since the country’s first president Yusof Ishak, there have been three Chinese, two Indians and an Eurasian holding the post.

Then again, do we elect a candidate into the Istana just because he or she is Malay? Or are voters going to choose the best person for the job?

Potential Malay leaders out there but…

I recently had a discussion with a community leader on Malay leadership in Singapore. He pointed out that there are potential leaders out there who have been identified for future roles in shaping the country.

However, he also noted that these people may be contented with their jobs and are therefore reluctant to step forward to serve the nation.

“There are Malays out there who can (do the job as president) but they are unwilling to do so. They have their reasons. Privacy is one of them and you have to understand this is not any job. This is the presidency we are talking about,” he said.

Another veteran community leader whom I met said that the times have changed and that the younger generation of Malays are driven more by personal success in the private sector. Hence, there is a lack of interest in community service or public service at the highest levels among them, he added.

“Do you think that they have time to give back to the community? I don’t think so!” he said.

He has a point. Personally, I have friends who have successful careers in the private sector and are unwilling to give back to the community.

“I contribute to Mendaki every month. That should be enough,” is the common answer I get whenever I ask them about serving the community.