SINGAPORE — It is “entirely possible” for a Malay or an Indian person to become Prime Minister (PM) in Singapore, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in an interview with BBC.
Shanmugam was responding to a question by Stephen Sackur in the presenter’s BBC HardTalk programme, which was aired on Wednesday (29 June).
Sackur noted that Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the leader of Singapore, making him the fourth Chinese PM in modern Singapore’s history.
“Isn't it the reality that you, with your Indian heritage, are never going to be able to be Prime Minister of Singapore, and that is a great shame, is it not?” Sackur asked Shanmugam.
In response, Shanmugam excluded himself in his reply and said, “A good candidate, in my view, a Malay or Indian candidate, can bridge it as long as the MPs have the confidence that he can lead them into the General Elections and win the elections. I think it's entirely possible, so I would not rule it out.”
Shanmugam said it is inaccurate to say an Indian or a Malay cannot be a PM in Singapore. At the same time, surveys have shown that there is a “substantial preference” for a PM of the same race as the respondents.
“So, if a Malay or an Indian, starts with, if I remember my numbers right, about a 20 per cent gap. But it's not unbridgeable.”
Asking Sackur about the number of non-white PMs in the UK so far, Shanmugam said, “So, let's get real. Race does matter in politics.”
Shanmugam also replied to a separate question about racism by referring to his experience as a minority in Singapore and the experience of others.
He said, “First of all, no one will deny that racism exists in Singapore, just like it exists in most other societies which are multi-racial…on the whole, compared with many other societies, it’s much less in Singapore.”
In a survey conducted by market research consultancy Blackbox in 2016, which was commissioned by Yahoo News Singapore, 69 per cent of all 897 respondents said they would support then DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam as a candidate to be PM.
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