By Clement Tan | Feb. 14, 2017 | Quartz
At a time when right-wing nationalism is seeing a resurgence globally, Singapore’s move to ensure minority representation may seem almost progressive in comparison.
The city-state could soon have its first female Muslim president, after the government rubber-stamped changes last week that would see only the country’s Malay, Muslim minority—making up about 15% of its 3.9 million resident citizens—eligible to stand at September’s election to choose its head of state, a largely ceremonial role.
But since Singapore gained independence from Malaysia in 1965, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has in fact relied on a plethora of race-based innovations to maintain racial harmony between its majority Chinese population, and the minority Malay-Muslim and Indian ethnic groups. The latest move to designate that the president must be a Muslim is seen as another one of these measures.
“The government believes they have to engineer multiracialism,” said Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at Singapore Management University. “They regard the election of a minority as head of state as an important testament of Singapore’s nation-building journey. Attaining that end justifies the means.”