I refer to the article “‘Singaporeans have an aspiration for race to matter less’: DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam” (Channel NewsAsia, Sep 21).

It states that ““However, the debate over the presidency proved that Singaporeans have an aspiration for race to matter less in politics and society, he said in response to questions after the first Majulah Lecture organised by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), on Wednesday (Sep 20).

Former Senior Minister of State and member of NTU’s Board of Trustees, Zainul Abidin Rasheed also raised the issue of the Reserved Election and asked Mr Tharman if divisive politics was a concern.

“For example, we have one of the best candidates standing for our elected president but yet Singapore is divided, is troubled by what we went through,” he said.”

I would like to applaud and agree with the remarks “However, the debate over the presidency proved that Singaporeans have an aspiration for race to matter less in politics and society”.

In this connection, arguably – we may be missing the obvious which has been on the lips of most Singaporeans – which is the unfairness and frequent tweaking of the rules to undermine non-PAP political opponents.


As to “Mr Tharman was also asked to comment on a lack of independent media and whether the ruling People’s Action Party resorted to mudslinging opposing candidates, as was perceived during the By-election in Bukit Batok last year.

The election was contested by PAP’s Murali Pillai and the Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr Chee Soon Juan. Some felt the PAP was undermining Dr Chee’s candidacy by bringing up his past run-ins with the government.

Mr Tharman shared his own experience having grown up “politically conscious and active” in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Singapore has really changed. It is a vastly different and more liberal space compared to what it used to be,” he told the audience.

“The sense of fear, the sense of constraint is far less now. Yes, you get pushbacks and sometimes you may not like it. It doesn’t mean I agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues.”

But if there is something that defines the PAP, Mr Tharman said it is on its insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans.

“That trait of the PAP shows up almost all the time. Sometimes the PAP itself falls short, and action has to be taken on individuals and it is taken”” – I beg to differ, as how do we account for our Press Freedom ranking of 151st in the world, and all the recent legislation and rules which have been criticised by Singaporeans and international human rights organisations, as attempts to undermine the freedom of expression in Singapore, political participation, etc.

For example, the Administration of Justice (Contempt of court) act, Protection from Harassment act, media licencing changes, changes to the rules in connection with the use of Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim park, etc.

With regard to “Mr Tharman said he also has “great faith” in Singaporeans. He said they judged what happened during the Bukit Batok by-election and would judge the PAP at the next election.
I don’t think Singaporeans are fools. Even when they read what we call the mainstream media, they don’t read it blindly.

They know some things are more likely to come up on page four than on page one; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things. They have the social media as well. People talk more openly, they exchange views more openly, and they make judgements”” – arguably, recent contentious issues like the requests to go to the police station to be interviewed in connection with a candlelight vigil for a death penalty person (when some of these people were travelling out of Singapore – their exit was denied – which came as a shock to them), the deportation of Han Hui Hui from Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at the request of the Government of  a neighbouring country, the charging of Li Shengwu for contempt of court, the Worker’s Party’ problems, etc – are just some recent events, which have a chilling effect on how Singaporeans feel about “the sense of fear,  the sense of constraint” (if I may borrow DPM Tharman’ remarks), freedom of expression, political participation, etc.


Leong Sze Hian
A.S.S. Contributor

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