Singapore presidency aspirant learns to speak Malay


PETALING JAYA: A Singaporean Malay entrepreneur who hopes to be accepted as a candidate for the country’s presidential election has started to brush up on his proficiency of the Malay language after a video clip showing him apparently struggling to speak the language, elicited negative reactions from the public.

Salleh Marican, CEO of Second Chance, one of the few Malay-owned companies listed on the main board of the Singapore stock exchange, admitted to being weak in his mother tongue.

The 67-year old however hoped to contest in the election in September which for the first time has been reserved for candidates from the Malay community in the island republic.

“In my business I don’t need to be good in Malay to be successful,” he told The Straits Times in a video interview uploaded today.

Second Chance, which began as a tailoring company for men’s clothing in the 1970s, has since ventured into various other businesses, including property and bakeries, with a shareholders’ equity of S$260 million (RM830 million).

Salleh said he had started Malay classes just three days before the interview in which he was seen clearly struggling to speak the language.

“Now I am having three sessions every week. After Hari Raya I intend to have five sessions,” he said.

Salleh gave the interview on June 5 after collecting his application form for the candidacy from the elections department.

However the unedited version of the interview went viral on social media, drawing vicious criticism from viewers about his poor command of the Malay language.

“Saya telah… mendang… ini ya? What’s the word, run the company, mendang…,” he was heard uttering in the clip as a journalist is heard in the background suggesting that he say “mengendalikan” (to maintain).

In The Straits Times video interview, Salleh said he braced himself for the brickbats he would obviously receive but was not prepared however for the intensity of the feedback.

“I expected a lot of negative comments, but I was taken aback with how vicious it was,” he said.

Salleh however said he wanted to surmount the issue of his poor command of Malay in the same spirit that he tackled his tailoring business in a shopping complex in the 1970s.

He said the business had failed after the first four months but he managed to cut his losses by selling it off. However, five months later the buyer too admitted defeat.

“He begged me to buy it back which I did, and I decided to call it ‘Second Chance’,” he said.

The last Malay to be president of Singapore was Yusof Ishak who held the position from 1965 to 1970, immediately after separation from Malaysia.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had mooted the idea for the upcoming presidential term to be reserved for Malays, in a new system to ensure that the presidency is held by leaders of different races.

The head of state position is largely ceremonial and does not come with political and administrative power. The election system for the president’s seat was introduced in 1993.

The final selection of candidates will be made by the Presidential Electoral Committee.