Parliament witnessed an intense Population White Paper debate recently with 77 members voted “For”, 11 voted ‘Against” and 1 “Abstain”. It was a learning experience for young PAP leaders and opposition MPs on political process in getting sensitive policy implemented for the benefit of Singaporeans at large. The debate brought up many issues affecting Singaporeans but there was one close to my heart that many might had missed – the need to maintain the percentage of minorities especially the Malays in Singapore’s population mix. In fact, Prime Minister Lee himself in closing the debate, highlighted the issue and gave assurance to Malays that they would not be diluted http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130208-401106.html. Some might asked why was it important that Malays had to be singled out and assured that they would not be diluted, to a point that PM Lee had to reiterate PAP government’s commitment to do so?
To shed light on the question and for the benefit of younger generation, leaders and new citizens in Singapore, we need to refer to Singapore’s Constitution that took effect on 9th August 1965 (the date we celebrate National Day every year). In the written constitution, I like to highlight Article 152 pertaining Minorities and Special Position of Malays that states:
(1) It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore.
(2) The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognize the special position of the Malays, who are the indigenous people of Singapore, and accordingly it shall be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.
I am very sure that not many young Singaporeans, even Malays, are well aware of this Article. Some may heard of it but not too sure why it is even written in the constitution especially in multi-racial and multi-religous society in Singapore. I feel the urge to highlight Article 152 as memory lapse may lead to our younger generation of PAP and Opposition leaders succumb to pressure to treat all races in Singapore equal and making poor decision in public policy. While every word in Singapore’s Pledge champions to treat everybody as equal, it may not be pragmatic and runs counter to the spirit of the constitution itself.
Singapore’s constitution was written after Singapore was thrown out by Malaysia in 1965 and Malays who decided to stay on after the separation felt vulnerable. Article 152 is the pillar in the constitution to recognize Malays as the indigenous people and that the Government of the day has to protect their rights. Several interest groups and individuals – the recent one by NMP Viswa Sadasivan – attempted to challenge and question the need for Article 152 in today’s context to achieve equality for all races. The response was swift and succinct from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew when NMP Viswa called for equal treatment for all races during one Parliament session in 2009 (http://www.asiafinest.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=211512). I sense that he will not be the last individual or group calling for equal treatment for all races in Singapore and to abolish Article 152. It is important to highlight that Article 152 is not an Affirmative action and Malays do not want it to be one. They stand tall with other races to compete on all fronts, though not at the success rate that they like but they continue to strive harder and make steady improvement.
As a Singaporean Malay, I felt reassured that PM Lee had pledged to ensure that the population percentage of Malays would not shrink in the long term. For the last 47 years PAP government had demonstrated their political willingness to uphold Article 152 and looked after the interest of Malays. And as the margin of support and votes for PAP suffers, the Malay votes will get more and more critical to determine that PAP remains as the government. Once again, the spotlight has fallen on the Malay community to decide the future of Singapore. The opposition parties, especially the Worker’s Party (WP) had their chance during the recent debate in Parliament to assure Malays of their existence in the long term, but not a word in the interest of Malays was uttered by either Low Thia Kiang or Sylvia Lim of WP . And when come to think of it, I have not heard any single manifestation or plan by WP to assure the Malays that they are special and their rights will be preserved.
To Singaporean Malay community, I urge each and every one of you to consider carefully and support those who will continue to maintain Article 152. It is always easy to play politics to the gallery but at the end of the day, the government of the day needs to know and respect that Malays are the indigenous people of the country and that their rights will have to be preserved in the constitution.