Shanmugam feels ‘sad’ about question on Chinese right to control policies

Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam speaking at a REACH-Zaobao forum. (SCREENSHOT: K Shanmugam/Istagram)
Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam speaking at a REACH-Zaobao forum. (SCREENSHOT: K Shanmugam/Istagram)

SINGAPORE — Singapore must never embark on the road of majoritarianism with the majority Chinese community controlling policy-making, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

Calling Singapore a “very precious but very delicate object” which can “easily be fractured”, Shanmugam said a policy of majoritarianism would be contrary to what Singapore stands for.

The minister was responding to a question posed at a REACH-Zaobao forum on 24 July. He posted the question and answer on his Instagram page earlier this week.

A participant asked the question: “Chinese Singaporeans, the largest group in Singapore, are now asked to be sensitive to the minority. But shouldn't the largest group have the right to decide on Singapore's direction, such as education, language to be used, like other countries?”

Shanmugam began his reply by saying, “I will say I'm quite sad that this question has been asked, and I will say, ‘Have a care’.”

Referring to the early days of Singapore’s independence, Shanmugam said that a group of influential Chinese leaders had spoken with then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to request for Mandarin to be the primary language of business, and that Singapore should be a “Chinese country”.

Singapore had left Malaysia on the basis that no single race would dominate another race on the basis of majoritarianism, he added.

“We are built on a very powerful ideal of the beauty of human spirit, and the possibilities of human spirit, of give and take, of accommodation, of multiracialism, of equality, regardless of skin colour.”

Democracy can go the other way as it has happened in other countries where the “political logic” is to cater to the majority to win votes, Shanmugam said.

He raised the prospect of Singapore doing away with the Ethnic Integration Policy for housing, the Group Representation Constituency system, and greater emphasis on teaching Mandarin across schools. “That is possible on the basis of majority rule. But is it right?”

The first generation of leaders led by Lee had stamped out racial chauvinism and built Singapore into a successful country, Shanmugam said.

He added, “And I will tell the majority race this, if we move away from that, the minorities suffer yes, but the country will suffer, and the Chinese will suffer too...I hope we never go down that road.

“Our multiracialism is not perfect. It's a work in progress but it's far better than the alternative that this question suggests.”

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