Singapore trailblazes on minority rights
IN April, this column predicted that Donald Trump would become the next president of the United States. It was not a difficult prediction to make and Trump’s victory was not the shocking result that some credulous souls pretend it was.
As the American film-maker Michael Moore wrote in an essay, Trump was going to win because he spoke to the embittered middle class “who were lied to by the trickledown of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them a nice big check before leaving the room”.
Yet many so-called experts, misled by partisan polls and deluded by their own antagonistic opinions about Trump, got it wildly wrong.
Professor TJ Pempel, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley was so sure Trump would lose that he wrote about what Asians should expect from an incoming Hillary Clinton administration.
Said Pempel, “Short of a zombie invasion or some equivalent deus ex machina, Clinton’s presidency is all but guaranteed.”
The professor’s blunder reflects how out of touch many academics and think tank boffins are, despite being touted as authoritative on television news networks.
They tend to spend far too much time in faculty clubs and press rooms listening to each other and not enough time meeting plain folks in the nation’s hinterlands.
So, even if they hear that Trump has been clicking with voters in key states with high unemployment, peer pressure impels them to shy away from breaking ranks with their colleagues.
They feel it would be demeaning, if not embarrassing, to suggest that Trump might win. So they block it from their minds and write that he’d be a disaster and must lose – in fact, short of a zombie invasion, he will lose.
Unfortunately, the masses disagreed and took their cue from Bob Marley’s refrain: Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights.
Ignoring the experts, they voted for the man they wanted. And many in this region are happy. As a businessman told me in Singapore last week, “Trump will be good.”
Well, that remains to be seen. But what we can say is that the American people have spoken, just as the people of Myanmar did when they voted for the National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
After eight months in power, it is too early to say whether Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her team were the best choice, but they have started well, except for one key area where they must improve.
Everyone knows what it is. After all, communalism, whether based on race or religion, is the bane of all nations, particularly in this region.
Here it has caused the alienation of what, since their real name is officially taboo, we will call Myanmar’s zombies.
Those who seek out and fraternise with these zombies place themselves in grave danger. Mere acknowledgement of their mistreatment can result in a fate equivalent to the lethal bite of a real zombie.
But it need not be that way. There is an answer and it can be seen in how multi-ethnic, multi-religious Singapore deals with this interminable problem.
There, rather than ostracise zombies, they are welcomed into the national community and are not only equal before the law, but are guaranteed representation at the very highest level.
In January, Singapore will enact one of the most radical amendments to its constitution in order to ensure minority candidates can and will become the country’s head of state.
Like Myanmar with its dominant Bamar majority, Singapore has a majority Chinese population, but also has sizable numbers of Malay Muslims, Indians and Eurasians.
Under its new system, if there has not been an elected president from one of these minority communities for five consecutive terms, then the next president must come from that community.
Since no Malay Muslim has been in the post for almost half a century, then in next year’s presidential election in Singapore, only Malay candidates will be allowed to stand.
It is part of a brave and commendable strategy to curb the insidious growth of communalism and one that others in the region should copy in order to allow their minorities to rise to the top.
A good place to start would be Myanmar, where a figure like the late great Abdul Razak is urgently needed at the highest levels of government in order to dispel prejudice and quell unrest.
It may be recalled that U Razak, as he was known, was chair of the All Burma Muslim Congress and one of the most loyal comrades of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Bogyoke Aung San.
He was a member of the shadow cabinet prior to independence, but sadly, along with Bogyoke Aung San and five other colleagues, was assassinated on July 19, 1947.
Today, the notion that U Razak or someone else from his community could become a minister, let alone president, of Myanmar is beyond belief.
Not so in Singapore, where, earlier this month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced, “Every citizen, Chinese, Malay, Indian or some other race, should know that someone of his community can become president, and in fact from time to time, does become president.”
Lee referenced the US presidential election, noting that while Trump and Clinton hold radically different views, minorities can rely on the strong checks and balances in the American system of governance.
Those checks and balances are not working here, which is why there is no U Razak in Nay Pyi Taw or in the governing party, and why his beleaguered community is in despair.
But they are not zombies. And it is time for them to aggressively follow Bob Marley’s advice in whatever way they see fit: Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights.
Clouds pass over the skyscrapers in Raffles Place, the financial district of Singapore, on November 11.