Monday 23 July 2012

PM Lee warns of new fault lines in Singapore

He urges new and old citizens to work together to maintain social stability
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday warned of new fault lines appearing in Singapore society, as he sounded yet another call for new and old citizens to work together to maintain social stability.

On top of race and religion, he highlighted rising tensions between older citizens and new immigrants, a hot-button issue that has dominated political and social debate in recent months.

Friction can arise because new citizens have different norms and habits even though they may be ethnically similar, Mr Lee noted, as he urged both new and old citizens to adjust to one another.

'The new arrivals should embrace the Singapore values and norms, and try to fit in as Singaporeans; Singaporeans can encourage the new ones to integrate, and help the new ones to fit in.'

And the best way to manage potential divides, he added, was to increase personal interaction so that people knew more about one another's faiths, ethnic groups and cultures.

The PM's call, which was made at a Racial Harmony Day celebration in his Teck Ghee ward, comes amid rising unhappiness among some Singaporeans who feel that new immigrants are competing for their jobs and homes.

Two weekends ago, Mr Lee also urged new citizens at a citizenship ceremony to do more to integrate into Singapore society and get more involved in the community.

Yesterday, he warned that race and religion remained fault lines that could tear society apart when it comes under pressure, such as after a terrorist attack.

It had taken Singapore years of hard work and deliberate policy to achieve racial harmony, he noted, such as ensuring equal opportunities for Singaporeans and integration in housing estates and schools.

But he also stressed that the community had to do its part, such as by sharing common spaces, and to be psychologically comfortable with one another.

Here, Mr Lee recounted a story of how a Malay throwing a birthday party and a Chinese family holding a funeral wake worked out an arrangement to share void deck space.

The Chinese family did not mind the music from the party, but asked for the volume to be lowered for 15 minutes every hour when prayers were held. The Malay family, which had booked the karaoke facilities at the residents' committee centre, agreed.

Grassroots leader Pragash Kulasagar told The Sunday Times that the incident, which happened in Teck Ghee last December, was solved quickly and easily.

'The families worked it out among themselves,' he recalled.

Mr Lee, too, said that such attitudes were needed to preserve social harmony, as were people's efforts to learn more about one another's faith and culture.

Yesterday, more than 800 Teck Ghee residents turned up to try out traditional games and an ethnic dress competition, as similar activities were held across Singapore to mark Racial Harmony Day.

At Teck Ghee Community Club, the PM's speech resonated with Madam Shanthi Kumaravel, a permanent resident from India, and her neighbour, Singaporean housewife Chitra Gunalan.

Both have been friends for more than 10 years.

Madam Shanthi, 35, agreed that new arrivals have to make an effort to be good neighbours and do more to fit into society here.

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