Sin­ga­pore trail­blazes on mi­nor­ity rights

The Myanmar Times - - News - ROGER MIT­TON roger­mit­ton@gmail.com

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.

Photo: AFP

Clouds pass over the sky­scrapers in Raf­fles Place, the fi­nan­cial district of Sin­ga­pore, on Novem­ber 11.

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