MM Lee Kuan Yew rebuts NMP Viswa Sadasivan: the Constitution of Singapore itself enjoins the Government to give Malays a 'special position'.

I must admit I'm not knowledgeable in legal stuff. However, I understand & believe that there is no such thing as a strictly unchanged Constitution. If there's an obsolete or redundant part of the Constitution needs to be altered (for improvement & benefits of all, that is), surely we can do that, no?

In a rare intervention in Parliament, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew rose yesterday to 'bring the House back to earth' on the issue of racial equality in Singapore.

Spelling out the Government's approach to the treatment of different races, he pointed out that the Constitution of Singapore itself enjoins the Government to give Malays a 'special position', rather than to 'treat everybody as equal'.

He rebutted as 'false and flawed' the arguments by Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan calling for equal treatment for all races.

On Tuesday, Mr Viswa had tabled a motion for the House to reaffirm its commitment to principles in the National Pledge when debating national policies.

A total of 14 MPs spoke on the motion over the past two days. The wide-ranging and vigorous debate ended with Parliament accepting an amended version of Mr Viswa's motion proposed by People's Action Party MP Zainudin Nordin, and modified slightly by MM Lee.

Mr Zainudin's amendment was to acknowledge the progress Singapore has made in nation building, while Mr Lee's was to highlight the principles in the Pledge as aspirations.

While present at almost every Parliament sitting, the last time Mr Lee rose to speak was in April 2007 during a furore over ministerial pay increases.

He told the House yesterday that he had not planned to weigh in on the debate over the Pledge, but was moved to do so by Mr Viswa's remarks on the hot-button issue of race.

In a lengthy speech on Tuesday, the NMP had expressed pride in Singapore's inter-racial harmony and principle of equal opportunity for all races.

However, he questioned if the Government was sending out mixed signals by emphasising racial categories, for example, through ethnic self-help groups.

MM Lee declared that the assumption of equal treatment for all races is 'false and flawed', and 'completely untrue'.

To 'remind everybody what our starting point is', he pointed to the racially tense period of the 1960s, the circumstances in which the Pledge had been written.

Singapore had just been thrown out of Malaysia. The Malays in Singapore were feeling particularly vulnerable, unsure if the Chinese majority here would treat them the way the Malay majority in Malaysia had treated the Chinese minority there.

Because of such a backdrop, the Pledge crafted by then Culture Minister S. Rajaratnam took pains to emphasise principles that would be 'regardless of race, language and religion'.

Mr Lee also drew the House's attention to Article 152 of the Constitution, which makes it the Government's responsibility to 'constantly care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore'.

In particular, it states that the Government must recognise the special position of the Malays, 'the indigenous people of Singapore', and safeguard their political, economic and educational interests.

Mr Lee contrasted Singapore's approach with that of the United States, where despite a 1776 declaration that 'all men are created equal', blacks did not get the right to vote until a century later, and racial segregation continued well into the 20th century.

For Singapore to reach a point where all races could be treated equally 'is going to take decades, if not centuries', he said bluntly.

For this reason, he sees the Pledge not as an 'ideology', as Mr Viswa put it, but as an 'aspiration'.

Mr Viswa had also wondered if Singapore had got the balance right between prosperity and the happiness of its citizens, and if it had done enough to strengthen its democratic fundamentals.

Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, who spoke after MM Lee, provided a detailed response, spelling out how the Government's record over the past 50 years had been entirely in the spirit of the Pledge.

'Far from compromising these ideals in the pursuit of economic gro-wth, we have been defenders of these ideals in building a nation,' he said.

Policies are debated openly in Parliament, and the Government is accountable to the people at every election, he said.

He noted that Mr Viswa's model of a multi-party democracy, more opinionated media and politically active universities was drawn from other democratic models in the West.

In Asia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand have elements of these models too.

But he questioned if those places had done better than Singapore, and said it was not self-evident that their models would work here.

More important than high-flown rhetoric in pledges and anthems was the reality on the ground, in the lives that citizens led, he maintained.

He agreed with the NMP that Singapore must move with the times.

However, Dr Ng said: 'We must not do so unthinkingly, but consider carefully each step forward, carving our own path towards a better society and a more vigorous economy.'

From Straits Times, "MM rebuts NMP".

Sir, I had not intended to intervene in any debate. I was doing physiotherapy just now and reading the newspapers and I thought I should bring the House back to earth.

Mr Rajaratnam had great virtues in the midst of despondency after a series of race riots when we were thrown out of Malaysia. Our Malays in Singapore were apprehensive that now that we (Chinese) were the majority, we (Chinese) would in turn treat them the way a Malay majority (in Malaysia) treated us. He drafted these words and rose above the present. He was a great idealist. His draft came to me; I trimmed out the unachievable, and the Pledge as it stands is his work after I've trimmed it. What is it? An ideology? No, it's an aspiration. Will we achieve it? I do not know. We'll have to keep on trying. Are we a nation? In transition.

Sir, reference was made to the Constitution. The Constitution of Singapore enjoins us to specially look after the position of the Malays and other minorities. Article 152 says: 'Minorities and Special Position of Malays. It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore. The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognise the special position of the Malays who are the indigenous people of Singapore and, accordingly, it should be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster, promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.'

And on Muslim religion, Article 153: 'The Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a council to advise the President in matters of the Muslim religion.'

Our Constitution states expressly that it is a duty of the Government not to treat everybody as equal. It's not reality, it's not practical, it will lead to grave and irreparable damage if we work on that principle.

So the Pledge was an aspiration. As Malays have progressed and more have joined the middle class with university degrees and professional qualifications, we have asked Mendaki to ask them to agree not to have their special rights of free education at university, but to take the fees they were entitled to and use the money to help more disadvantaged Malays.

So we're trying to reach a position where there is a level playing field for everybody but it's going to take decades, if not centuries, and we may never get there.

Now let me read the American Constitution. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, reads: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.' That's 1776.

The US Constitution passed a few years later says: 'We, the people of the United States' (this is the preamble) 'in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings and liberties to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.'

Nowhere does it say that the blacks would be differently treated. But the blacks did not get the vote until many decades later. Racial segregation was not ended until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s with Martin Luther King and his famous We Dare To Dream speech. Enormous riots took place and eventually, then President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. From 1776, it was more than 200 years before an exceptional half-black American became President.

My colleague (Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan) says we are trying to put square pegs into round holes. Will we ever make the pegs the same? No. You suggest to the Malays that we abolish the (Article 152) provisions in the Constitution, you will have grave disquiet. We start on the basis that this is reality: We will not be able to get a Chinese minister or an Indian minister to persuade Malay parents to look after their daughters more carefully and not have teenage pregnancies which lead to failed marriages. Can a Chinese MP or an Indian MP do that? The Malays will say to him: 'You're interfering in my private life.' But we (the Government) have funded Mendaki and Muis (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), and they have a committee to try and reduce the numbers of such delinquents.

The way that Singapore has made progress is by a realistic step-by-step approach. It may take us centuries before we get to a similar position as the Americans. They go to wars, the blacks and the whites together. In the World War I, the blacks did not carry arms, they carried the ammo, they were not given the honour to fight. In World War II, they went back, these ex-GIs - those who could make it to university were given the GI grants - they went back to their black ghettos and stayed there. Today there are still black ghettos.

These are the realities. The American Constitution does not say that you will treat blacks differently but our Constitution spells out the duty of the Government to treat Malays and other minorities with extra care.

So the basis on which the NMP has placed his argument is false and flawed. It's completely untrue, it's got no basis whatsoever. I thought to myself, perhaps I should bring this House back to earth and remind everybody what our starting point is. If we don't recognise where we started from, we will fail.

Nobody can speak with the knowledge that I have; I knew the circumstances in which the Pledge was made. I admire the sentiments of Mr Raja. In August 1965, my worry was, what would the Malays in Singapore do, now that they knew they were a minority? When I returned on Aug9, on the advice of our Special Branch, I did not go back to my house. I stayed at Sri Temasek (in the Istana), which was my official residence. I stayed there for one week, then I went to Changi Cottage and stayed there for two months to make sure that everything subsided.

These are realities. Today, 44 years later, we have a Malay community, I believe, at peace, convinced that we are not discriminating against them, convinced that we are including them in our society.

NMP Viswa used to work in Sinda. I'm told for 10 years. He will know Indians are not equal. Brahmins will not be in Sinda. It is the non-Brahmins who are in Sinda. So I think it is dangerous to allow such highfalutin ideas to go undemolished and mislead Singapore.

From Asiaone, "Dangerous to let highfalutin ideas go undemolished: MM".

The minority Malays in Singapore have a "special position" under the republic's constitution, according to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

He said the constitution of Singapore enjoined the government to give Malays a "special position" rather than to 'treat everybody as equal'.

Lee said this in Parliament on Wednesday when he rebutted as 'false and flawed' the arguments by Nominated Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan calling for equal treatment for all races in the city-state, the local media reported Thursday.

On Tuesday, Viswa tabled a motion for the House to reaffirm its commitment to principles in the National Pledge when debating national policies.

Lee, who is currently Minister Mentor, said the assumption of equal treatment for all races was "false and flawed" and "completely untrue".

According to government statistic for 2008, Singapore's population was about 4.8 million, with the Chinese forming the majority (76.7 per cent), followed by the Malays (14 per cent), Indians (7.9 per cent) and others (1.4 per cent).

He reminded everyone that Singapore's starting point was the racial clash and tense period of the 1960s after the republic was thrown out of Malaysia and until it got its independence.

Lee said the Malays in Singapore then were worried about the Chinese who formed the majority, and wondered whether the Chinese here would treat them the way the Malay majority in Malaysia had treated the Chinese minority there.

The minister also pointed to Article 152 of the constitution, which says that it is the responsibility of the government to "constantly care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore".

In particular, it states that the government must recognise the special position of the Malays, 'the indigenous people of Singapore', and safeguard their political, economic and educational interests.

Lee mentioned how the United States handled the race issue, where despite a 1776 declaration that "all men are created equal", blacks did not get the right to vote until a century later, and racial segregation continued well into the 20th century.

For Singapore to reach a point where all races could be treated equally "is going to take decades, if not centuries', Lee said.

From Bernama, "Singapore Malays Hold Special Position".

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive