It was "probably a political minus" to amend the constitution to reserve the Presidential Election for a racial group, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conceded publicly on Sunday, Nov. 10.
However, it was also a decision that had been taken because it was the "right thing" for Singapore, PM Lee said, if no one from a racial group has been president for five continuous terms.
This was the gist of the statement delivered by PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP), at the PAP convention at Singapore Expo.
PM Lee also acknowledged that there was disagreement by some Singaporeans over the presidential election decision, admitting that the government and party took some heat in the short term as a result.
Lee said: "Overall, this issue is probably a political minus for the government. But this is part of governing. I am convinced that we did the right thing."
Harder for a non-Chinese to become President by national votes
Lee explained that he made the choice as it was harder for a non-Chinese to become president, if the presidential election is opened to national votes.
In such a scenario, he added, there will be unhappiness and an erosion of the founding values of the country if the president ends up being Chinese almost all the time.
He said: "How would the minorities feel if the President of Singapore were almost always Chinese?"
Minorities will be reassured when they know that a president will come from their group
In stressing the social importance of the position, Lee also added that the president further served as the unifying symbol of Singapore's status as a multiracial nation.
This was why the constitution was amended two years ago to ensure that from time to time, the president will be from a minority group.
In reiterating the importance of making such a choice, Lee said that the PAP "must never, ever be afraid to do what is right for Singapore".
Part of a larger effort to strengthen multiracial and multi-religious harmony
These efforts, PM Lee said, were part of a larger proactive move to strengthen structures and institutions that support Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious harmony.
He further highlighted that the fault lines of race and religion had not really disappeared.
He said: "We have to continue managing racial and religious issues closely and sensitively. When something happens to cause offence, like people making reckless remarks or offensive posts, we have to take action."
Top image screenshot from CNA