PETALING JAYA: Singapore has taken exception to an editorial by “Awang Selamat” in Utusan Malaysia over the efforts by some quarters in the city state to challenge changes to its elected presidency system.
In an open letter to the newspaper’s editor yesterday, Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia Vanu Gopala Menon pointed out several “baseless and mischievous allegations” over the issue of meritocracy.
A copy of the letter was published on the website of Singapore’s foreign affairs ministry.
The allegations by the Malay daily in its Sunday edition, Mingguan Malaysia, includes the claim that, in Singapore, “meritocracy was always being used as an excuse to discriminate against Malays”, “meritocracy was also open to manipulation”, and that “Malays became weaker and marginalised from the corridors of power”, Menon said.
The editorial was titled “Presiden Melayu Ke-2?” Awang Selamat is the collective pseudonym for Utusan’s editors.
It said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had begun to take steps to pave the way for a Malay leader to assume the elected presidency but noted that some opposed the move as they thought the president should be elected based on merit.
The editorial proceeded to state its opinion of meritocracy in Singapore.
In his letter on Tuesday, the High Commissioner said that he “wished to set the record straight”.
“Meritocracy is a key pillar of Singapore’s system of governance. Our citizens have access to equal opportunities, regardless of race, language, or religion, and our policies are tailored to that end.
“Singapore’s Malay community has made significant social and economic progress over the past five decades, not because of privileges, but because of the community’s efforts in a fair and just society.
“Malay students have also excelled and topped national examinations,” Menon wrote.
He added that Singapore’s meritocratic system had never been “manipulated” or “used as an excuse to discriminate” against Singapore’s Malay community, or any other community.
“We strictly prohibit our people, including the media, from using the issues of race, language, and religion to divide our society.”
The high commissioner suggested that the editorial may have misunderstood the amendments made to the Presidential Elections Act.
He noted that a candidate in the reserved election must meet the same qualifying criteria as any other candidate who stands and wins in a non-reserved election.
Menon said as the head of state, the president is the symbol of the country and represents all Singaporeans, not just his ethnic group.
“These are important facts which ‘Awang Selamat’ has conveniently omitted in the editorial,” Menon wrote.
The next Singapore presidential election, which will be held in September this year, will be a unique one as it has been reserved for Malay candidates. This would mean Singapore will be having a Malay president for the first time since its first president, Yusof Ishak, nearly 50 years ago.
Speculation is rife that the post would likely be won by Halimah Yacob, who is currently the first female Parliament speaker.
Besides Halimah, several prominent figures in the Malay community, both in the public and private sectors, are also seen as being strong candidates in the presidential election.
After Yusof, Singapore’s presidents have included ethnic Indians, such as Devan Nair and S R Nathan, aside from those from the majority ethnic Chinese population, such as Wee Kim Wee and the current president, Tony Tan.