Government’s silence on ethnic group’s involvement in politics


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.


16 thoughts on “Government’s silence on ethnic group’s involvement in politics

  1. Its blatantly obvious, isn’t it ?

    Its all right if ethnic based groups, VGOs, religious organisations rally their base or use their organisations to support the PAP, or a Presidential candidate endorsed by the PAP. That is not considered “dangerous”.

    However, none of them are allowed to publicly support a non-PAP candidate. That would be “dangerous” because we’re playing with fire.

    The more you try to push on this matter, the more you’ll hit a brick wall. If at all you find responses, it will be with logic so convoluted (read : AIM report) that you’re essentially being asked to believe the world is flat because we say so.

  2. Tan Clan’s support for Tony Tan is not racial, is it? They are a group of people who share the same surname. They happen to be Chinese but that is not the reason they supported Tony Tan, is it? If the guy’s name was Wong, I don’t think they would have supported him.

    Notwithstanding the above, I don’t see why the State should intervene in such situations. In other countries, it is common for groups to express support for certain political candidates. Such groups range includes trade unions, lobby groups, associations, churches, etc. In fact, politicians also go around lobbying for support from such groups. So the National Rifle Association supports Republican candidates, anti-abortion groups support Democrat candidates, auto workers unions support certain candidates, etc.

    That is the essence of politics– to build a support base for your candidacy.

    1. Tony Tan’s speech at the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clans Associations in February this year (2013). The Tan clan associations are members of the SFCCA:

      “[Clan] associations were also committed to the preservation of Chinese heritage and promotion of Chinese culture.

      “Our clan associations have displayed the ability to recognise pressing needs of the Chinese community and stay relevant in changing times. In 1986, clan associations reached a new milestone -SFCCA was established to strengthen cooperation among the clan associations.”

      “As the apex organisation for clan associations, SFCCA in recent years has been actively spearheading efforts to ensure the continued relevance of the Chinese language and culture amongst the Singaporean Chinese community, and help Singaporeans tap on opportunities in China.”

      “The promotion of Chinese culture and heritage should remain a priority for clan associations. Clan-run schools are well-known for their emphasis on values-based education and character development.

      “These virtues are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and set a strong foundation for building a gracious society.

      “We are fortunate to have a rich melting pot of different dialect groups that make up our Chinese community. Each group has its dialect, traditions and even cuisine that are worth preserving and promoting.

      “I urge clan associations to continue to share such cultural heritage that is integral to our Chinese identity.”

  3. Andrew I think you just scored an own goal. Mr Tan Jee Say was invited to tea by the Hainanese clan association during his presidential campaign in Aug 2011. The Hainanese clan association backed him during his campaign.

    Why did you not question this using the very same logic you used in your blog post?

    1. CY: The point is that while on one hand, the Government dissuades non-PAP aligned interests from gathering ethnicity based support (or what appears to be), but on the other hand is complicit in its silence towards interests aligned to itself that are doing the same thing. It doesnt matter if Tony Tan or TJS canvasses from their respective clan associations, because thats just part and parcel of politics..The point the author was making was the set of double standards. And if you are a fair observer, i think you would agree that the double standards set for aligned vs non-aligned interests differ greatly indeed.

      1. I have to disagree Eugene Koh. The fact is, Malaysians that gathered for a protest held at the Merlion Park were arrested. So where is the double standards may I ask?

    2. Actually, the Hainan clan association did not pledge support for Tan Jee Say. However, I take your point and feel that Tan Jee Say should not have had that tea session with the clan association.

      Here is a news report about that meeting:


      Yesterday, Mr Tan Jee Say was at the Hainan Tan Clan Association on Seah Street for a good luck tea session with a close to 800-strong group.

      The association’s president MrTan Boon Hai said its constitution does not allow the association to publicly endorse any candidate but each member can make his own decision.

      Asked if he was disappointed, Mr Tan Jee Say said: “The chairman made it very clear in his speech that because of this constitutional provision, they cannot publicly endorse me but they leave it to the members to do so and they will encourage the members to do so.”

      Mr Francis Phua, president of the Singapore Hainan Hwee Kuan – an umbrella group with over 5,000 members – told The New Paper his association, too, will not endorse any candidate as its constitution does not allow it to participate in political activities.

  4. Thank you CY for pointing out another example of double standards. Abdul Ghani Othman happily “had breakfast” and went back to Malaysia while those ordinary Malaysians got rounded up and sent back to Malaysia. Too bad they didn’t have breakfast.

  5. I’ve been browsing on-line more than three hours these days, yet I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me.
    In my opinion, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will probably be
    much more useful than ever before.

  6. Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to
    see if it can survive a thirty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
    My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views.

    I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  7. I am sure this post has touched all the internet
    viewers, its really really nice piece of writing on building up new website.

What say you?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s