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The Singapore Democrats showed howSingaporeans can come together to have a civilised and dignifieddebate about the situation facing the Malay community in Singapore,an issue that has long been ruled a taboo subject by the PAPGovernment.$CUT$
And while the standing-room only crowdconsisted mainly of Malays, there was a visible presence ofnon-Malays too. “For this is not just a Malay issue,” SDPChairman Jufrie Mahmood said, “this is a national issue concerningall Singaporeans.”
The forum was moderated by Dr Vincent Wijeysingha who called for an honest discussion while imploring all present to maintain a respectful tone.
But while the mood of the participants wascordial, it did not hide the fact that there were serious problems facedby Malays. These were exacerbated by the fact that Malay MPs were notspeaking up for them.
But Mr Maarof Salleh, former presidentof the religious Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) and one of thepanel speakers, defended the Malay parliamentarians: “It’s not thatMr Yaacob Ibrahim (Minister for Muslim Affairs) is not talking, it’sthose above him who are not listening.”
Another speaker, political sciencetutor at the National University of Singapore Mr Walid Jumblatt,listed a few statistics showing Malays lagging behind the Chinese andIndians in socio-economic indicators.
For example: the percentage of Malaysenrolled in universities in Singapore was 5 percent, compared to 22percent for the Chinese and 35 percent for Indians.
The medianhousehold income for Malays was $3,844 compared to $5,100 for the Chinese and $5,370 for Indians.
Are these outcomes due to a culturalproblem or structural problem, Mr Walid posed. He pointed out thattwo persons who maintained that the problem was a cultural one was DrMahathir Mohammad, former prime minister of Malaysia, and Mr Lee KuanYew.
He said that both cultural and structural factors matter in explaining the Malay situation and that both the Malay community and the state must be honest about theirresponsibilities in order to resolve the matter.
Another panel speaker, Mr Abdul Halimbin Kader who is a PAP cadre member, called for unity among theMalays and urged them to work together to advance their standing inthe community. He cited the work that Mendaki did to help the Malaycommunity advance educationally.
Mr Jufrie Mahmood cited some policiesthat discriminated Malays. One, for example, forbade Malay militarypersonnel entering sensitive installations in Singapore.
There were also very few Malays enroledin the army and even fewer holding high ranking positions. TheSingapore Armed Forces appointed the first Malay general sinceindependence.
In the education sector, Singaporefound its first Malay President Scholar – after more than 40 years.
One question that was brought uprepeatedly by the speakers as well as members of the audience was theinflux of foreigners. While the Chinese and Indian populations showedsignificant increases, the proportion of Malays were on the declinedespite their birthrate increasing.
This was troubling as this would dilutethe voting power of the Malays in their numbers dwindled relative tothe other races. A few questioned the motive of the PAP Governmentbringing in Chinese and Indian nationals.
This matter concerns not just theMalays in Singapore but non-Malays as well. Singaporean of Chinesedescent find it hard to relate to the Chinese from the People’sRepublic of China while Singaporean Indians are culturally alien withimmigrants from India.
Overall, the audience seemed restrainedin their criticism of the PAP’s treatment of the Malays. Many wereunhappy with the current situation and wanted to see more being doneto level the playing field for the Malay community.
Secretary-General Chee Soon Juan calledon members of the audience to come forward to assist the SDP informulating an alternative policy position for the Malays in orderthat the community can be integrated with mainstream Singapore.
Presently, the PAP has total control ofthe socio-political discourse of the Malay community which hasresulted in the current problems that they face. An SDP alternativewould provide Malays not just a greater say in policies affectingthem but also a party which regards them as equals in the Singaporeansociety.