Singapore: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday asked the majority Chinese community to support constitutional changes that would allow the election of a non-Chinese as president from time to time to represent the minority community in the city state.
"I hope the Chinese community will support the constitutional changes we may propose, so that if we have a good minority presidential candidate, he can become the president, and represent all Singaporeans," said Lee in his National Day Rally on Sunday, a traditional address on economic, policies and politics, delivered after the National Day.
Lee has proposed changes to the president scheme in January this year to ensure that, among other things, there is a non-Chinese president from time to time.
Earlier, speaking in Chinese during the national address, Lee said he hoped the majority of the Chinese community will support constitutional changes to allow an election of non-Chinese president from time to time to represent the minority community in politics in the city state.
Multi-racialism is the fundamental reason Singapore became a nation in the first place, said Lee, who started speaking at the rally at about 6.30 pm and was to finish it by 10 pm, before he was taken ill.
He also recited a famous quote from the first prime Minister of Singapore and his father: "This is not a Malay nation, not a Chinese nation, not an Indian nation. Everybody will have a place in Singapore."
"All things being equal, a minority candidate contesting in a Chinese-majority constituency is at a disadvantage, which is why group representation constituencies exist to ensure minority representation in Parliament," Lee said.
It is also why he proposed changes to the elected president scheme in January this year to ensure that, among other things, there is a non-Chinese President from time to time, he said.
A recent survey by Channel NewsAsia and Institute of Policy Studies also showed that most Singaporeans across all races will accept a prime minister or president of another race, but a significant number show a strong preference for these leaders to be of their own race.
"It is important to have a Malay, Indian or someone of another race as president from time to time, as the role as head of state is a unifying symbol for all Singaporeans," he said citing the example of SR Nathan.
"Nathan is Indian, but as President, he looked after the interests of all Singaporeans. He proactively reached out to all races and got to know them well," he said.
Singapore has had three non-Chinese presidents. The first was a Malay, Yusof Ishak, the second was a Eurasian, Benjamin Sheares, followed by an Indian, Devan Nair and another Indian, SR Nathan.
But the last presidential election had four candidates of Chinese-origin vying for the country’s highest office.
Tony Tan was elected from that keenly contested election in 2011.
The Chinese accounts for 75 percent of the population followed by Malays, Indians and Eurasians among others in the multi-national society of the city state.
The prime minister took a break from the lengthy speech saying he was feeling unsteady because of "prolonged standing, heat and dehydration".