In April, the Government accused Mr Nizam Ismail, the former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals, of allegedly “[pushing] for racial politics”.
In a letter to the Straits Times forum page, Mr Ho Ka Wei, the Director of Corporate Communications, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), explained the danger in this:
“If any ethnic community were to organise itself politically, other communities would respond in kind. This would pull our different communities apart and destroy our racial harmony.”
On 4 May, the Minister of MCCY, Lawrence Wong, reiterated the point.
“Similarly, while individuals in the NGOs are free to express their views, they should not use their organisations to pursue a partisan political agenda. Otherwise we may end up with religiously based VWOs or ethnic-based groups being used for political purposes. That’s something we cannot afford to risk in Singapore.”
On 1 May, I emailed Mr Ho to seek clarification on the Government’s position on the Tan clan association’s support for then-presidential candidate Tony Tan’s campaign.
“During the presidential elections in August 2011, it was reported by the media that one of the presidential hopefuls, Dr Tony Tan, was being ‘endorsed by the Federation of Tan Clan Associations, which has over 10,000 members, in his bid to become Singapore’s third elected president.’
“I would like to ask how the Government – or MCCY – sees the endorsement of Dr Tan by a clan association which represents an ethnic community (namely, Chinese), and if this endorsement goes against what you stated in the letter on 29 April vis a vis the Nizam Ismail saga.”
There was no response from Mr Ho.
So I re-sent the email to him on 8 May.
I have yet to receive any acknowledgement or reply from Mr Ho since.
On 10 May, I sent an email to the minister, Mr Wong, seeking the same clarification.
On 17 May, after not receiving any response, I re-sent the email again to the minister.
I have yet to receive any replies.
It is important for the Government to state its position on the matter so that there is no ambiguity when it comes to ethnic communities being involved in politics or political events. It is useless, really, to speak of grave consequences if ethnic communities or organisations are actively involved in politics, but we keep quiet when such things actually take place before our very eyes.
Worse, if the Government keeps quiet on incidents such as the Tan clan association’s support for Tony Tan, it raises doubt about the integrity of the system, or the seriousness of the Government’s position.
Should a Malay group or an Indian group pledge its support for a candidate of their respective ethnicity in future elections, by what moral authority would the Government stop this, if it does not condemn the actions of the Chinese-based Tan clan association?
We are staring at an abyss of ethnic/racial strife if our Government started taking sides on the ethnic divide, even if it is by omission. Its continued silence on speaking up against the Tan clan association’s actions do not bode well for Singapore.
In fact, the very dangers of which Mr Wong and Mr Ho warned are, arguably, being perpetuated by the Government’s silence in this instance.
Closing one’s eyes, covering one’s ears, and ignoring queries about such incidents do not solve anything.