SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said he understands people’s concerns about this month’s uncontested presidential election, which was reserved for members of the minority Malay community.
“It is encouraging that people feel about this, and they want race to matter less in the future,” Shanmugaratnam said during a forum at the Nanyang Technological University on Wednesday, according to excerpts distributed by his office.
Shanmugaratnam, who is also the coordinating minister for economic and social policies, is the first member of the cabinet to comment on the disquiet.
Hundreds of Singaporeans held a silent protest on Saturday against the election, in which applications from four candidates were rejected. Political protests are rare in the wealthy city-state, which has been ruled by the People’s Action Party since independence in 1965.
Aiming to strengthen a sense of inclusivity, Singapore had decreed the presidency, a largely ceremonial six-year post, would be reserved for Malays this time. About three-quarters of the country’s people are ethnic Chinese.
Halimah Yacob, a former speaker of parliament, was elected unopposed as the country’s first woman president. She had formerly been a member of the People’s Action Party, the party that has led Singapore since 1959.
Shanmugaratnam, who is from the ethnic Indian minority, said most Singaporeans, including himself, would have preferred a contest.
He added: “But the aspiration for race not to count is something that needs working towards. It cannot just be a pledge, it cannot be just an incantation.”
He said, like Yacob, he looked forward to the time when there was no need for reserved elections.
Shanmugaratnam has rejected suggestions that he could be a future prime minister. A survey last year by market research consultancy Blackbox showed that 69 percent of respondents would support him as a candidate to be prime minister.
All three of Singapore’s prime ministers to date have been of Chinese origin.
Reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore