Minorities in Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew’s rule


This refers to the letter titled "Tamil Autonomy, Lee Kuan Yew’s Line, Putin policy" by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka (DJ), published in The Island of June 17. To support his argument for the devolution of power to the ethnic minorities, DJ has extensively quoted from the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). Hence, I pen this letter to present your readers with some information on how LKY treated minorities in his country.

LKY did not tolerate political dissent, particularly ethno-political dissent. Unlike in Sri Lanka, public debate on ethnic rights is not permitted in Singapore. There are restrictions on free speech preventing open discussion on issues related to race and religion. Subsequent to the race riots of the 1960s, the ethnic minorities have been subjugated by not allowing them to concentrate in residential areas of their choice. Apartment units are allocated on the basis of ethnic ratio of the country, so that the country’s ethnic majority remains the majority in all residential areas.

In August 2010, in a submission to Mr Githu Muigai, UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Singapore, community reps stated that discrimination against ethnic minorities is very much alive in Singapore and much of this is perpetuated by the government. They provided evidence on the following issues:

• Malays are not allowed to join some sections of the armed forces.

• Job advertisements specify "Mandarin-speaking" as a requirement even though these jobs do not necessitate this language skill.

• PAP [ruling party] propagates the view that the Malays were reproducing too quickly compared to the Chinese. The government has encouraged the influx of Chinese nationals from China to counter the growth of the Malay Singaporeans.

• Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in Singapore. Many of its members are imprisoned.

For the benefit of your readers, please allow me to quote from an authoritative report by Mr Muigai, issued in 2010:

Ethnicity: "… the significance of ethnic identity has not diminished and indeed some would say has increased in one’s interactions with the State and with the Singaporean society at large."

Commenting on the Group Representation Constituencies created for ensuring minorities’ political participation,Mr Muigai said:"… this scheme had actually institutionalized and entrenched the status of minorities within Singaporean society."

Housing: "…ethnic quotas are imposed in each state subsidized building and each neighbourhood - to prevent the formation of ethnic enclaves …"

"… the existing public housing quotas may prevent members of ethnic minorities finding an accommodation close to their families or that ethnic minorities encounter greater difficulties in reselling their apartments …; … sale to other ethnic groups is prohibited."

Education: "… Special Assistance Plan Schools, which have been established in order to nurture the best talents that will form the next generation of leaders in the various fields, had restricted access to Mandarin speakers. … a visible symbol of the marginalisation of minority groups, and that they create the impression that there exists a hierarchy of cultures."

Employment: "… my attention has been drawn to the difficulties and negative stereotypes faced by members of the Malay and Indian communities in the field of employment. … Malay individuals continue to be underrepresented in senior positions of the armed forces, the police and intelligence services, as well as in the judiciary."

In 2011, in a research paper published in the Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, James Gomez, the Deputy Associate Dean (International) and Head of Public Relations, School of Humanities, Communications and Social Sciences at Monash University in Australia, said that:

"Many of the recommendations made by Mr. Muigai, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, are not new. These have been raised over the years by opposition parties and civil society groups and have been discussed extensively in published academic works."

"If the initial governmental response is anything to go by, it is likely to reject the bulk of the suggestions on the basis that they are not feasible in Singapore."

That is precisely how LKY and his government treated minorities in Singapore.In that country LKY would not have allowed DJ to engage in a public debate on ethnic issues. If LKY were to rule this country, those who campaign for secession would have been imprisoned a long time ago.

Dr. Jayantha Ranasooriya

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