Friday, 22 September 2017

NTU Majulah Lecture 2017 by DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Questions raised about presidential election show that people want race to matter less: DPM Tharman
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2017

It is "understandable" that questions have been raised about the recent presidential election, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who last night offered a positive take on the concerns flagged.

"It is encouraging that people feel about this, and they want race to matter less in the future," he said during a dialogue at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"It is encouraging because it shows that we value what we say in our Pledge."

Mr Tharman was responding to a question on whether the reserved election has entrenched even more deeply the idea of race, and whether it in fact marks a regression in race relations.

The minister, who said he himself would have also preferred a contest, "like most people", said however that the aspiration for race not to count is something that requires working towards.

"It cannot just be a pledge, it cannot be just an incantation," he said. "Sometimes, it requires a conscious act of the state.

"The reality of the matter is, not just in Singapore, but anywhere else, including the most mature democracies, that everything else (about a candidate) being equal, race, ethnicity, religion, matters."

He cited an editorial by Malaysian publication Mingguan Malaysia, on how it was unimaginable that Singapore has a Malay president when it has 75 per cent Chinese. "An insightful piece, because they are not great fans of Singapore. But they decided to write an editorial commending what happened... But we are not a special people. We have to work to be different and continue on this journey."

Mr Tharman was speaking at NTU's inaugural Majulah Lecture, a new initiative by the university that aims to tackle topics relevant to the development of Singapore.

He laid out five key shifts Singapore's education system needs to make in a changing world. These include ensuring every child has a fair chance of success, reducing academic load and broadening education. There must also be more flexibility in differentiating students, developing individuals' potential throughout life and deepening multiculturalism from young, he added.

On the last point, Mr Tharman elaborated: "Never forget that growing up as a minority is different from growing up in the majority. Never pretend it is the same."

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Singapore, China look to new areas of cooperation; PM Lee Hsien Loong's Official Visit to China, 19 to 21 Sep 2017

These include financial, defence and legal matters, as leaders reaffirm deep friendship
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussed new areas of bilateral cooperation yesterday, as they reaffirmed the deep and strong friendship built over the years by successive generations of leaders.

The new areas of bilateral cooperation include those in financial, judicial and legal matters, as well as in defence, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.

PM Lee, who visited Chinese tech start-up SenseTime, also expressed Singapore's interest to learn from China's experience in growing a vibrant environment for technology start-ups, the PMO said.

The two leaders' meet at the Great Hall of the People.

In his opening remarks, Mr Xi noted that "in this new historical chapter, there are many opportunities to build our ties in substantial and fruitful ways".

The Chinese leader said Mr Lee's visit embodies mutual consensus to advancing bilateral relations, and demonstrates the closeness of ties.

The leaders reaffirmed the deep and strong friendship built over generations of high-level interactions between Singapore and Chinese leaders. They expressed hope that the close relationship will be taken forward by successive generations.

Mr Lee said he was grateful to receive an invitation to visit China at this busy time, when China is preparing for next month's 19th Party Congress, the country's twice-in-a-decade leadership transition.

Both leaders agreed their countries enjoy strategic congruence and share common interests in many areas, which contributed to their close and multifaceted cooperation over the years. This included the successful collaboration in the three government-to-government projects, namely Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

They also noted the important role played by the major bilateral mechanisms, such as the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation and Singapore-China Leadership Forum, which are all chaired by the respective deputy prime minister and vice-premier, and the Judicial and Legal Roundtable co-chaired by the countries' chief justices.

Both leaders, whose meeting was the top item on state broadcaster CCTV's 7pm news bulletin, also agreed to continue working closely to promote even stronger ASEAN-China ties under Singapore's coordinatorship of ASEAN-China dialogue relations and as Singapore assumes the role of ASEAN chair next year.

Mr Xi expressed appreciation for Singapore's early support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The leaders highlighted the potential of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative and Southern Transport Corridor to play a vital role in supporting the BRI as well as China's domestic developmental priorities, particularly in western China.

Mr Lee said he welcomed Chinese companies to submit strong and competitive bids for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail project, given China's extensive experience in the field.

He also met parliamentary chief Zhang Dejiang and anti-graft czar Wang Qishan yesterday.

Mr Zhang said he was pleased to see Mr Lee again. They last met 11 years ago when he was the party secretary of Guangdong province. He said Mr Lee's meetings with China's top leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday, showed the country attached great importance to his visit, and to developing friendly relations with Singapore. All four leaders sit on China's top decision-making body, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Rohingya crisis: Aung San Suu Kyi breaks her silence, but fails to quell criticism

The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2017

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday broke her silence on the Rohingya crisis, but her speech failed to quell mounting international criticism of her government's military offensive against the Muslim minority that has been described by the UN as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

In her address to the nation, the Nobel Peace laureate said she does not fear global scrutiny over the crisis, which has driven more than 400,000 people from Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Aug 25. While she condemned human rights violations and promised that violators would be held to account, she stopped short of blaming the military and did not address the United Nations' allegations.

"We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state," Ms Suu Kyi said in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw.

Amnesty International noted that "she is still silent about the role of the security forces".

The Myanmar government has said its armed forces are tackling the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which has claimed responsibility for attacking a border post on Aug 25, and which the government accuses of setting fires to Rohingya villages and attacking civilians. But Rohingya and rights groups say it is the army which has razed houses to force the minority out of Myanmar.

Terrorism experts warn that the Rohingya's plight has forged a groundswell of support among Islamist militants in the region, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia. Meanwhile in India, a debate has broken out amid government efforts to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims on the grounds that they pose a security threat to the country.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Lessons from the Presidential Election 2017: A look at 3 key issues

Now that Singapore's first president elected after changes to the system is in office, what issues have emerged from the process? Insight examines three - the reserved election, the walkover and its effect going forward, and the lead time in making the legislative changes.
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Sunday Times, 17 Sep 2017

The presidential election in 2011 is remembered as Singapore's most hotly contested. Four candidates stood in a race that went down to the wire, with Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam finally winning by 0.35 per cent of the votes.

In contrast, the election this year saw Madam Halimah Yacob elected unopposed last week - the third no-contest since elections began in 1993. Before, the president was appointed by Parliament.

Yet, this year's presidential election might go down as among the most hotly discussed.

In the lead-up to it, major changes were introduced to the way the elected presidency works, which resulted in, among other things, the election being reserved for candidates from the Malay community as it has not been represented in the office since 1970.

These changes, as well as the eventual walkover, triggered considerable debate online and in physical forums. In her swearing-in speech last Thursday, President Halimah, 63, acknowledged that some Singaporeans did not agree with the Government on the need to reserve elections.

She sought to be a unifying figure, saying: "I respect their views."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, too, had earlier this month noted in a forum the unhappiness in some quarters. He said the Government had been prepared to "pay a political price" in the short term when it introduced the changes, because it strongly believed in their long-term benefits.

As President Halimah embarks on her six-year term, some of this debate offers a springboard for learning more about the elected presidency.

The reserved election was a focal point of much debate. What issues did the debate highlight about Singapore's multiracial fabric?

Another discussion trigger was the walkover. Why was there one, and what might walkovers mean for the elected presidency in the long run?

And, was there enough lead time from the mooting of the changes to the eventual election for Singaporeans to digest the changes?

Insight speaks to political observers on what, as a result, has emerged about the elected presidency as an institution.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Singapore to host Formula 1 World Championship until 2021

Singapore to host F1 race for four more years
Talks with new F1 owners were protracted as Republic assessed value of contract extension
By Wang Meng Meng, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2017

The show will go on for the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, after the deal to stage the motor-racing event was extended for four more years to 2021.

Now into its 10th edition, the Singapore event got a fresh lease of life just before the final race weekend of the previous contract.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran announced the contract extension at the F1 Pit Building at the Marina Bay Street Circuit. He cited three reasons for the protracted negotiations with new F1 owners Liberty Media, which were wrapped up only yesterday.

"First, with the changes in the ownership and management of F1, serious negotiations could commence only in February," said Mr Iswaran.

"Second, we wanted to understand the new management's vision and plans for F1, the importance and role accorded to the Singapore race, whether this was aligned with our own objectives.

"Third, we wanted to thoroughly evaluate the medium-term prospects for F1 and the value a term extension could bring to Singapore. I am glad that all parties have been able to agree on commercial terms for the extension."

The contract extension is for four years instead of five as in the previous extension signed in 2012, as the Singapore organisers would like to see the future direction of the sport after the expiry of the Concorde Agreement in 2020. The agreement is a contract between motorsports world governing body FIA, the F1 teams and the Formula One Group promotion companies, which determines how teams compete in the sport, and how television revenue and prize money will be shared.

F1 chairman and chief executive Chase Carey, who spearheaded Liberty's US$8 billion (S$10.8 billion) takeover of the racing series last September, was effusive in his praise for the series' only full night race.

The American said: "The Singapore Grand Prix, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Singapore Government have all done an excellent job of making this an event that involves the whole city."

Mr Iswaran also revealed that, including this year's race, Singapore has hosted more than 450,000 international visitors, who have contributed about $1.4 billion in incremental tourism receipts.

Friday, 15 September 2017

President Halimah Yacob takes oath and makes history

Inauguration of the 8th President of the Republic of Singapore, Madam Halimah Yacob

First woman president also symbolises Singapore's multiracial dream, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 15 Sep 2017

History was made at a quarter past six yesterday evening, with the inauguration of Singapore's first Malay President after 47 years, and its first woman head of state.

Looking solemn in a peach-coloured headscarf, President Halimah Yacob, 63, took her oath in the Istana state room, flanked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

Her rise to the highest office of the land reaffirms Mr Lee Kuan Yew's vow in the very early hours of independence on Aug 9, 1965, that Singapore "would not be a Malay nation, a Chinese nation nor an Indian nation", PM Lee said in an address to 200 guests.

When this pledge was made, the nation had a Malay head of state: Encik Yusof Ishak, who died in his third term in 1970, at the age of 60.

"President Yusof Ishak symbolised, visibly, that though we had been forced out of Malaysia primarily because we were a Chinese-majority city, independent Singapore would never in turn suppress its own non-Chinese minorities. We chose the nobler dream: A multiracial, multi-religious Singapore."

"Madam President, half a century later, you symbolise, visibly, that Singapore will persevere with this dream," PM Lee said, adding that this has become more urgent in the light of regional and global trends.

"In an age when ethnic nationalism is rising, extremist terrorism sows distrust and fear, and exclusivist ideologies deepen communal and religious fault lines, here in Singapore, we will resist this tide.

"Here, the majority will make extra efforts to ensure that minorities enjoy equal rights. That is something special, precious and fragile.

PM Lee said this is why Parliament has members from all ethnic groups. Now, the nation will regularly have heads of state who are, like President Benjamin Sheares, Eurasian, like President S R Nathan, Indian; like President Tony Tan, Chinese, and like President Halimah Yacob, Malay, and a woman.

This was the "compelling reason" the Government amended the Constitution to reserve the presidency for a community that has not held the post for five terms, he added.

Speaking after PM Lee, Madam Halimah welcomed the move to preserve Singapore's multiracialism.

"I am proud that I belong to a country that does not just say it is diverse, but lives out this diversity every single day," she said, adding that while strides have been made, it remains a constant work in progress.

"We need guideposts to help us along this journey," she added, as she addressed the palpable disquiet of the past week over her walkover in the first reserved election.

"I know that some Singaporeans would prefer to achieve this without needing reserved elections. I respect their views," she said.

"Like them, I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the provision to have reserved elections, and Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as presidents."

"Today, I want to assure all Singaporeans that as your President, I will serve every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion."

PM Lee noted that the life story of the veteran unionist and former Parliament Speaker reflects the Singapore Story.

Madam Halimah said her life story is a testament to Singapore's meritocracy, a shared value the presidency embodies, together with multiracialism and stewardship.

"I have seen how much we can achieve by working together. Now, as President, my duty is to unite the people, to overcome the many challenges ahead of us, together.

"I pledge to continue this journey of service to our country. I call on all Singaporeans to join me in this endeavour," she added.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Halimah Yacob is Singapore's First Female President; First Malay Head of State in 47 years

I want to be president for all: Halimah Yacob
First woman and second Malay to hold office will be sworn in today as Singapore's eighth head of state
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob yesterday pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans, after she was elected unopposed in the first election reserved for Malay candidates.

She will be sworn in as Singapore's eighth president at the Istana today, and create history by becoming the country's first woman president and only the second Malay to hold the office after founding president Yusof Ishak.

The former Speaker of Parliament was the only candidate who qualified to stand for election, after the Presidential Elections Committee ruled out businessmen Salleh Marican and Farid Khan for failing to meet constitutional criteria.

Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong declared her President-elect in a walkover around noon - drawing loud cheers from about 700 supporters at the People's Association Headquarters in Jalan Besar.

The move to raise the qualifying criteria for candidates and reserve this year's election, coupled with the absence of a contest, had drawn fierce criticism from some quarters.

Madam Halimah, 63, acknowledged doubts about the reserved election in her speech yesterday.

She later told reporters: "Election or no election, my promise is to really serve everyone. I will serve with great vigour, with a lot of hard work, with the same passion and commitment that I have served... for the last four decades."

The nation's eighth head of state came from humble beginnings, helping her mother sell nasi padang from a pushcart.

After joining the National Trades Union Congress as a legal officer in 1978, she rose through the ranks to become its deputy secretary-general, gaining a reputation as a tireless champion of workers' rights.

She became an MP in 2001, was appointed Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth in 2011, and elected Speaker in 2013.

More than 500 unionists were at the nomination centre to support her yesterday, many decked out in orange - the colour she chose for her campaign to represent unity.

Madam Halimah said her election as a Malay president "shows very positively" how Singaporeans practise multiracialism - that everyone has a chance to become president.

Her becoming the nation's first female president sends a serious message about gender diversity, she added. "Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard."

Flanked by her husband, retired businessman Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, and proposer, Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng, she thanked her supporters and all Singaporeans for their good wishes.

Madam Halimah - who said yesterday that she would continue living in her Housing Board flat in Yishun - urged Singaporeans to stand together to confront the challenges facing the nation.

"I ask that you focus on the similarities we have, and not on our differences," she said, stressing that the country has to stay united.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said she will bring to the presidency her experience of working with Singaporeans from all walks of life, and championing workers and disadvantaged groups.

He called her yesterday to congratulate her. In a Facebook post, he wrote: "The president is the apex of our political system and the symbol of our multiracial, multi- religious nation. I am confident that Madam Halimah will fulfil her role with distinction."

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Can Singapore Fall?: The Accidental Nation by Lim Siong Guan

IPS-Nathan Lectures by Mr Lim Siong Guan: Lecture I (“The Accidental Nation”)

Intangibles underpin Singapore’s success, says pioneer public servant Lim Siong Guan
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2017

Singapore's success is built on intangibles such as honour and a drive to overcome its smallness, former head of the civil service Lim Siong Guan said in a lecture yesterday.

A continued emphasis on these same intangibles is the country's best hope in avoiding the decline as seen in many nations, he added.

On honour, he noted that Singapore's reputation for being trustworthy is crucial in its dealings with the world: "We are a country and a people who honour our word."

Internally, honour has also been critical, he said. "It is about Singaporeans honouring each other, appreciating our social differences, our diversity, and at the same time seeking strongly to maintain social harmony as a common good for all."

These two aspects of honour form a big part of the Singapore brand name, he added, noting that the London consultancy Brand Finance ranked Singapore as the top nation brand in 2016, ahead of Switzerland and Japan.

Mr Lim was giving the first of three lectures as the Institute of Policy Study's (IPS) fourth S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore. Former S R Nathan Fellows include Mr Peter Ho, also a former head of the civil service, ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan and Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping.

In his introduction of Mr Lim, IPS director Janadas Devan said he belonged to a "very select" group of pioneer public servants who are not as well-known as political leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee, but whose "contributions to Singapore are as great as those of the political leadership".

Mr Lim was permanent secretary in the defence, education and finance ministries. He had also been group president of sovereign wealth fund GIC.

Yesterday, he noted that when Mr Lee died in 2015, some associated the founding prime minister's legacy with the physical transformation of Singapore.

Mr Lim, a former principal private secretary to Mr Lee, felt the physical was not as important as the intangible, like a determination to overcome Singapore's smallness. This included refusing to be weak.