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."

"It requires extra action, extra empathy, and that sense of sharing the same boat together," he added, using the Chinese idiom 风雨同舟. This multicultural quality of the Singapore identity is something that has to be shaped and experienced from young, especially in the context of a world occupied by strife, said Mr Tharman.

"It has to start from young. The beautiful thing about kids is that they love play, they love dance and they love sports. We can shape these instincts if we are conscious about mixing them early in life."

He flagged an observation about co-curricular activities (CCAs) in school. "I think our CCAs are too ethnically defined in practice, in ways that sometimes puzzles. Football today is different from what it was in 70s and 80s - you look at our national team. All very good players. But it used to be a much more multiracial team in those days.

Towards the end of a nearly one-hour speech, he teared while speaking of how he has noticed Indian or Chinese girls performing in Malay dances in school.

"That is when you get 'getaran jiwa', the stirring of the heart," he said, using a Malay phrase. "The parents notice it, their children know it, and slowly they realise we are a lot more the same than we thought."

Public concerns over reserved Presidential Election understandable: DPM Tharman
By Faris Mokhtar, TODAY, 21 Sep 2017

It is “understandable” that concerns were raised over the recent reserved Presidential Election (PE), and the “encouraging” public debate showed that Singaporeans have an aspiration for race to matter less, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Wednesday (Sept 20).

However, this aspiration requires action, and cannot be achieved by simply reciting the national pledge or through an “incantation”, said Mr Tharman, who was the first Cabinet Minister to address public disquiet over the PE, held last week.

The PE was won via a walkover by Madam Halimah Yacob, who was the sole eligible candidate. At her swearing-in ceremony at the Istana last Thursday, Mdm Halimah noted the unhappiness some Singaporeans felt about the recent changes to the Elected Presidency scheme.

“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,” she said.

Mr Tharman, who was speaking at a dialogue after delivering the inaugural Nanyang Technological University Majulah Lecture, said he agreed with the President when responding to an audience member who questioned whether the reserved election undermined meritocracy, and entrenched the notion of race, and whether Singapore was “regressing as a society”.

Mr Tharman said most Singaporeans, including himself, would have preferred a contest. However, he pointed out: “The reality of the matter not just in Singapore but anywhere else, including most mature democracies, is that everything else being equal, race, ethnicity and religion matter. You don’t need to be a sociologist to know that. It’s the reality.”

He added: “You need a way of ensuring that from time to time, we all see that in practice and applies to every part of the Pledge … It doesn’t happen naturally. It requires a conscious effort and never forget, that growing up as a minority is different from growing up as a majority ... Never pretend that it’s the same.”

Former Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Zainul Abidin Rasheed, who was among the audience, comprising university students and guests, also raised the topic of the reserved election when he asked Mr Tharman to speak about his concerns with Singapore’s social cohesion.

In response, Mr Tharman reiterated that social cohesion is a work in progress. Pointing out the divisiveness occurring in the region and the rest of the world, Mr Tharman said: “We are not special people. We are a human society like any other, and the natural workings of society, you can just let it go with the market, it can very easily lead to divisions deepening. So we have to avoid it.”

Mr Tharman also responded to a question on Government control of the media, and whether he agreed with the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) practice of “gutter politics” during the Bukit Batok by-election last year.

The phrase was used by Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan who lost the by-election to the PAP’s Murali Pillai. Dr Chee had criticised the PAP for launching personal attacks against him during the hustings.

Thanking the audience member for “being willing” to ask the question, Mr Tharman said he did not agree “with every tactic by every one of my colleagues”, adding that nevertheless, the PAP continues to be defined by its insistence on “character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans”.

He acknowledged that the ruling party has fallen short of its standards at times, and when this happens, action is taken against individuals who have let the party down.

Speaking from personal experience as a former civil society activist, Mr Tharman noted several times that Singapore is a vastly “more open and liberal place” compared to what it used to be. The sense of fear and constraint “is far less now”, he added.

“It is a vastly more open society now than it used to be. Vastly more open politically and people don’t have to be frightened,” said Mr Tharman.

He also reiterated that Singaporeans are in the position to judge the PAP, and will do so in the next General Election, which is due to take place by April 2021.

Mr Tharman added: “I don’t think Singaporeans are fools. I don’t think they’re fools at all. And even when they read the mainstream media, they don’t read it blindly.”

DPM Tharman on Singapore's education system

Biggest mistake is to think 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'
He highlights five key shifts for system during NTU's inaugural Majulah Lecture
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2017

The biggest mistake for Singapore's education system is to think that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday evening.

In a speech addressing some 1,500 students, academics, university students and members of the public, he laid out the challenge for the education system: to develop a truly innovative society while retaining social cohesion.

"The system that we have today is different from the system we had 20 years ago, and quite different from 50 years ago. There's been constant evolution of our education system, and that's really our challenge and our opportunity for the future," he said at the first Majulah Lecture organised by Nanyang Technological University.

The annual lecture is a new initiative by the university to tackle topics about Singapore's development.

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, said the education system must keep changing and experimenting, or it might "end up on the wrong side of history".

"In education, more than in any other field, we will only know how well we are doing 20 or 30 years from now," he said.

Mr Tharman highlighted five key shifts that the education system must make to face the challenges of a tumultuous future.

The first, he said, is to do more as early as possible to give every child "a fair chance of success". "As some would put it, you've got to mitigate the 'lottery of birth'," he said.

Secondly, there needs to be "fluid and flexible pathways as children grow up", he said.

"We should avoid the extremes of either uniformity or rigid differentiation, and avoid paths with dead ends. Every path must be porous, allowing you to move from one path to another."

For instance, Singapore has moved away from streaming students to adopting subject-based banding and greater fluidity in secondary schools, he said.

The third shift is to reduce the academic load to give space to develop a culture of innovation and creative ability. "It doesn't happen if we spend a large amount of time working on high-stakes exams; you don't develop the creative part of your brain."

He noted that schools are broadening their admissions systems to allow students to develop in diverse ways.

The fourth is to get people to develop their potential throughout life, said Mr Tharman, adding that innovation requires a deep mastery of skills, which comes from experience, thinking and doing over time.

The final shift is for Singapore to deepen its multiculturalism from an early age.

"The beautiful thing about kids is that they love play, they love dance, and they love sports. We can shape these instincts if we are conscious about mixing them early in life."

In this process of deepening multiculturalism, the Singapore identity is further strengthened, said Mr Tharman.

He ended his nearly one-hour-long speech with a phrase from the National Anthem.

"When you think of our Anthem, remember 'Mari kita bersatu, dengan semangat yang baru (Let us unite, with a new spirit)'," he said.

"And that new spirit was not intended just for the day we became a new nation 52 years ago. Every so often we need that new spirit in our society, and that's how we go forward together."

Singapore 'has become a more liberal place'
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2017

Singapore has become a more liberal place compared with what it used to be, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday at a dialogue with students.

He added that people now feel less fear and constraint than they did in the past.

But he acknowledged that, at times, there are still "pushbacks" which people "may not like".

He was speaking during the question-and-answer session at the Nanyang Technological University's Majulah Lecture.

A student had asked Mr Tharman about media control and whether the minister agreed with what he saw as "gutter politics" employed by People's Action Party leaders during the Bukit Batok by-election last year.

Mr Tharman, in reply, said he did not want to minimise the significance of what the student had said, but added that the country has "really changed".

Recounting his own experience as "someone who has lived through some of Singapore's history", having grown up in the 1960s and becoming politically active in the 1970s, he said: "It is a vastly different and more liberal place compared with what it used to be. The sense of fear, the sense of constraint is far less now."

While he does not "agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues", he said, the PAP's insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans is something that defines the party.

Describing this as a trait that "shows up almost all the time", he acknowledged that the PAP had, at times, fallen short of the bar it had set itself.

On these occasions, he said, action was taken against those who did not meet the party's own standards.

"So just bear that in mind, that's one of the colours of the PAP - that emphasis on character," he said.

On the media, Mr Tharman said he believed Singaporeans are discerning. He said that when people get news from the mainstream media, they "do not read blindly".

"They know some things are more likely to come up on Page 4 than on Page 1; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things," he added.

He also said that with the proliferation of social media, people also talk and exchange views more openly.

"I also have great faith in Singaporeans," he said. "Singaporeans judge. Singaporeans judged us in Bukit Batok, Singaporeans judge at each general election, and they will judge the PAP in the next election.

"I don't think Singaporeans are fools," he added.

Mainstream media a 'serious-minded, responsible player', says DPM Tharman
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2017

Singapore's mainstream media is a serious-minded and responsible player that helps take the nation's democracy forward by airing views in a way that does not fragment society, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

"The mainstream media in Singapore is not a free-for-all. Neither is it the heavily controlled media that some critics caricature it to be.

"That is not how things are in Singapore - the media doesn't wait around for instructions and it doesn't excuse everything Government does," he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

The post sought to clarify comments he made about the media at Nanyang Technological University's Majulah Lecture last week, when a student asked about government control of the media, citing Singapore's low ranking in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index.

Mr Tharman had replied that Singaporeans are not fools and do not read the mainstream media blindly.

"They know some things are more likely to come up on Page 4 than on Page 1; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things," he had said. "They have social media as well. People talk more openly, they exchange views more openly, and they make judgments."

Yesterday, he said: "The mainstream media is what I regard as serious-minded, responsible players in an evolving Singapore democracy - helping to take it forward, but airing views in a way that avoids fragmenting society."

This is not an easy responsibility, given the ability of the media to divide people, he added.

Comparing Singapore's media with others in Asia and the West, he said the "free-for-all" in some Asian nations has added to a divisiveness in society not seen in a long time.

In some mature Western democracies, people have segregated themselves into media bubbles, both in the mainstream media and online, and public trust in the media is "at an all-time low".

"These are not the things that Reporters Without Borders looks at, but they matter to the quality of democracy in any society, and are worrying many others," he said.

He also said on Facebook that the mainstream media carries all the "important news of the day, including both sides of the political debate", adding that the news is read by Singaporeans who discuss it freely. "So blaming the mainstream media for electoral losses is not a good strategy - it doesn't square any more with the reality of a public that reads, follows issues and thinks more critically."

Concluding, he said: "We should keep this going - the mainstream media as responsible players in our democracy, helping to move it forward. We should hope too that the middle in the social media gets stronger, for Singapore's good."

DPM Tharman clarifies view on gutter politics
He says PAP does not engage in such tactics, and it is not about raising issues of character
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2017

Character is at the heart of politics, and raising questions about an election candidate's character cannot be said to be gutter politics, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

He added that contrary to what some commentators have claimed, he never agreed with the view that the People's Action Party (PAP) was engaging in "gutter" tactics against Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan when it raised questions about his character during the Bukit Batok by-election last year.

"That is not what I said, and not what I believe... I stand by what the PAP and my colleagues said. The PAP was not engaging in gutter politics," he wrote in a Facebook post.

Mr Tharman was clarifying comments he made last week at a dialogue with students, which have been taken by some as a criticism of his party colleagues.

During the dialogue at Nanyang Technological University's Majulah Lecture, he was asked if he approved of the election tactics of his PAP colleagues by a member of the audience, who called it "gutter politics".

In particular, the student brought up the Bukit Batok by-election.

During campaigning, the PAP had contrasted Dr Chee's character with that of PAP candidate Murali Pillai, and criticised Dr Chee for saying that he was proud of his past - despite lingering questions raised by the PAP about some of his actions.

The SDP accused the PAP of gutter politics for doing so, and argued that questions of character should not be raised during elections.

Mr Murali won the election with 61 per cent of votes, against Dr Chee's 39 per cent.

Responding to the student, Mr Tharman had said that Singapore has become more open over the years, though there were "pushbacks" at times.

He also said: "I don't agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues. But I have to say that if there is something that defines the PAP, it is its insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans."

Yesterday, he said his comments had been misconstrued by some to mean he agreed with the accusation about gutter politics.

Refuting it, he said: "I did not entertain the assertion about the PAP engaging in gutter politics in Bukit Batok. It is an assertion that is recycled from time to time, and has been the SDP's position. But having seen social media commentaries claiming that I had agreed with the assertion, I am making my views clear."

He added that character was an important measure of a candidate, and by looking at a politician's actions over time, voters can judge his motivations and integrity, and decide whether they can trust him.

"If Singaporeans ever come to ignore the track record and integrity of politicians, in the PAP or any other parties, it is Singapore that will end up in the gutter. That has been the story of many nations."

Mr Tharman also acknowledged that, more generally, there were occasional differences of views on issues within the Government and within the PAP.

He said: "Of course there are, and that is healthy. But once any course of action is decided, there is no question that we take collective responsibility for it in the leadership."


I did not entertain the assertion about the PAP engaging in gutter politics in Bukit Batok. It is an assertion that is recycled from time to time, and has been the SDP's position. But having seen social media commentaries claiming that I had agreed with the assertion, I am making my views clear.


DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the NTU Majulah Lecture

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