SINGAPORE - Give the elected presidency (EP) a chance to develop and allow it to evolve, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday urged the Malay community, in particular, its youth.
He made the appeal in response to a question during a dialogue with tertiary students on whether the upcoming presidential election, which has been reserved for Malay candidates, is "mere tokenism".
"I think, let's give it a chance and see how it works because no policy is cast in stone. One day, the Government might change its mind and decide that this reserved election doesn't work. You never know," he added.
"You've to sort of recognise the fact that we must continue to evolve and learn from the experiences on the ground."
Dr Yaacob was speaking publicly on the EP for the first time since the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill was passed last week.
The Bill provided details such as the election period and the size of the committees to assess whether candidates are eligible to contest. It follows broader constitutional changes passed last November that spell out how a presidential election will be reserved for a particular racial group if no one from that group has been president for five terms in a row.
The upcoming election is reserved for the Malay community, which has not seen a Malay president for 46 years since Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak, who died in office on Nov 23, 1970.
Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, also answered a range of questions from cyber security and youth employment to the birth rate in the dialogue, held as part of an inaugural Singapore Model Cabinet event.
Organised by Reach, the agency that facilitates the Government's engagement with citizens, the event saw over 100 students learning about policymaking and participating in simulated Cabinet meetings.
In his reply, Dr Yaacob, who reiterated that he will not contest the election, said his preference "would have been clearly an open election, where a Malay could actually win the EP on his or her own merit".
"But I think we also have to ask ourselves whether or not we are able to achieve that if we take that risk," he added.
He said tribal tendencies "are still very strong" and "run deep", not just among the miniorities, but even among the majorities.
"So how you ensure that the imbalance doesn't become a burden on the minority is something which the Government has to think about all the time," he added.
He said the Malay community is concerned "not just about the president, but also Malay permanent secretary, Malay general... because we want to see representation across the entire Singaporean life".
"But we believe it must come about because of meritocracy. Even for the elected president, you don't just pick up somebody from Geylang Serai - the person must qualify, the person must earn the respect of all Singaporeans," he added.
This article was first published on Feb 13, 2017. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.