Yaacob: Presidential candidate must be respected by all
Malay community hopes to have a Malay president, says Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, but candidate must be qualified
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim had to pause in his speech for a few seconds yesterday as he recalled how his eldest brother was the first Malay President's Scholar.
In a voice choking with emotion, the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs told Parliament: "When we sent my brother off at the airport, and this was Paya Lebar airport, my entire clan turned up, and some had even camped overnight at our place...
"The airport was swamped by Malays. It was a moment of celebration."
His brother, Mr Mohd Ismail Ibrahim, a Raffles Institution student, won the country's most prestigious scholarship in 1968.
It would take 44 years before another Malay - Mr Adil Hakeem Mohamad Rafee - would be awarded the President's Scholarship again, in 2012.
Speaking during the debate on the proposed constitutional amendments to the elected presidency, Dr Yaacob used his personal story to illustrate how the Malay community treasures seeing one of its own being recognised for excellence and leadership.
Having a Malay as president is a long-held desire among the community, which has not seen a Malay president for 46 years, he said.
Singapore's first president, Mr Yusof Ishak, died in office on Nov 23, 1970.
"An entire generation of Malays have grown up without ever having a Malay president," Dr Yaacob said.
"Some would argue that the race of the candidate should not matter. That the most important thing is whether that person can do the job, and do it well.
"But to have a qualified Malay to do the job speaks to a long-held desire among the community to see one of us serving in the highest office in the land. It is about our place in this nation that we call home."
If the Bill is passed, a reserved election would be made for a community that has not held the office of president for five or more consecutive terms.
WORRIED AT FIRST
Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, said he was initially worried that such a move would be seen as the Government going out of its way to help a minority community that has lagged behind.
But noting that the Malay candidate must meet the same exacting standards demanded of candidates from other communities, he said: "We do not want, and we cannot accept, tokenism."
For a candidate to be respected by all Singaporeans, he must be held to the same high standards of character and values, regardless of race, he added.
Other MPs also spoke in favour of having reserved elections.
MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling noted that Singapore is seen by some groups of Chinese nationals as a Chinese society or a distant county of a larger China.
She added that perceiving Singapore as a "Chinese county" undermines our independence and standing as a sovereign nation.
Ms Tin also argued that the reserved election was not discriminatory.
"The Chinese form the majority of our population, but if for some reason, there is no Chinese president for five terms, the sixth term will be reserved for the Chinese," she said.
Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai said the reserved election was "a signal and a safeguard".
"Should there be a situation where 30 years have elapsed without having a president from the minority community, then, for the sake of ensuring we always remain an inclusive society, the inclusion provision will kick in," he said.
Some would argue that the race of the candidate should not matter. That the most important thing is whether that person can do the job, and do it well. But to have a qualified Malay to do the job speaks to a long-held desire among the community to see one of us serving in the highest office in the land. It is about our place in this nation that we call home.
- Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim