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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Chronology for Malays in Singapore

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Date(s) Item
Jun 1990 Singapore announced the end of the automatic waiver of fees for tertiary education for Malays. It did however announce a S $10 million grant to help impoverished Malay students.
Aug 1990 The Republic celebrated its 25th anniversary of independence with the slogan "one people, one nation, one Singapore". However, government leaders expressed concern that the population was becoming too cosmopolitan and individualistic, and in danger of being swamped by foreign cultures. Instead the authorities supported the concept of an ethnic and racial mosaic, respecting individual cultural roots. To the minority communities, the formulation of a new national ideology, which stresses core values of Confucian morality, family loyalty and placing society before self, was suggestive of Chinese cultural chauvinism. It threatened to detract from the PAP's (People's Action Party, in power since independence) own considerable success over the past quarter of a century in creating a modern, secular, multiracial society. The Malays, in particular, fear relegation to the status of an underclass, and responded with the formation of an Association of Muslim Professionals (Far East and Australasia 1993, p. 864).
Nov 1990 In a move to prevent religious friction, the government approved the "Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill" that restricts proselytization and curbs religious activity that might foment political subversion or social unrest. The bill generated considerable public discussion and concern, as it is feared that the legislation might be used to further stifle legitimate criticism of the government. After over three decades in power, Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Prime Minister in favor of his Deputy Goh Chok Tong. He will remain in the Cabinet as Senior Minister to the Prime Minister's Office and keep his influential post as PAP Secretary General. The new Prime Minister offered a more open political system, and at his inauguration on November 28, he declared a new official program titled The Next Lap. It promises to make Singapore "more prosperous, gracious and interesting over the next 20 to 30 years" (op.cit.). Also the new leader embarked on an extensive program of community visits and exhorted the public to participate and express their views. This has gained him considerable support among the Malay and Indian minorities, who were traditionally wary of the PAP. The changes, however, appear to represent more of a difference of style rather than of substance.
Jan 1991 The Persian Gulf war has sparked pro-Iraqi sentiments among segments of Muslims in Southeast Asia, including Malay Muslims in Singapore. Malay organizations have called for the withdrawal of US troops and urged that the Arabs be allowed to determine a solution without outside interference. Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, in an interview in Washington, said that some Singaporean Muslims do not favor the Government's sending a 30-member Medical Team to Saudi Arabia.
Aug 1991 With the economy in good shape, the Prime Minister called for a `snap' election' for the end of the month, two years ahead of schedule, arguing that consensus and national unity precluded the need for a formal opposition. The opposition decided to contest only 40 out of 81 seats. The PAP won 77 seats, compared to 80 in 1988, and the PAP's share of the vote dropped to 61.0%, from 63.2% in 1988. The Social Democratic Party secured 3 seats and the Workers Party won in one constituency. The PAP's share of the votes fell to just above 60% for the first time since 1963 and Tim Huxley writing on Singaporean politics maintains that electoral support for the opposition under PAP rule has always represented a protest vote (Asian Affairs, 10/92). Although the PAP has always stressed that it is a multi-racial, non-communal party in terms of its leadership, membership, ideology and policies, it has never secured proportionally as much support from the minority Malay and Indian communities, as from the Chinese. Lee Kuan Yew has openly acknowledged that at least half the Malay electorate consistently votes against the PAP.
Nov 1991 Following years of public discussion, the Parliament approved a constitutional change in the presidency, to take effect at the end of President Kim Wee's term in 1993. Instead of a ceremonial figurehead appointed by Parliament, the new-style President will be chosen directly by the electorate, and will be empowered to safeguard the large financial reserves that have been accumulated over the previous 30 years and to veto senior civil service and judicial appointments. The change in the presidency is widely regarded as a maneuver to prolong Lee Kuan Yew's influence over Singaporean politics.
Apr 1992 The Prime Minister announced a controversial political loyalty test, favoring constituencies that supported the PAP by allocating public funds to refurbish housing estates.
Nov 1992 Nine Muslim business persons joined a trade delegation to visit China, where they made new contacts for doing business with their Chinese counterparts.
Jun 1993 Malay Muslims go to neighboring Malaysia or Indonesia to celebrate the religious festival Korban, where they slaughter cows or goats to feed the poor. Singapore's Islamic religious leader Mufti Semait says that sacrificial slaughter is best done in the vicinity of one's residence. However, the government, perhaps, implicitly discourages mass slaughtering for religious reasons.
Jul 1993 Mr. Abdullah Tarmugi, a Malay MP and Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee on Community Development takes over the political leadership of the Muslim community after 16 years with Dr. Ahmad Mattar at helm. He will assume the same cabinet portfolio in charge of Muslim Affairs. However, many Malays question his appointment as the leader of the Muslim community, since he has a Chinese wife and the facial features of a Chinese. Observers speculate why the Prime Minister did not pick Mr. Sidek Saniff, who as Minister of State for Education was the next highest-ranking Malay in government after Dr. Mattar, and who played a visible role in Islamic affairs. Some believe that unlike some other Malay MPs, Tarmugi is English-educated and has post-graduate training overseas in urban sociology. Moreover, he is viewed as having national, rather than just Malay appeal. Many believe that Tarmugi's lack of association with the Muslim groups could prove to be a liability.
Aug 1993 While speaking before Muslim Singaporean students at Cairo Al-Azhar University, George Yeo, Singapore's Minister of Information and Arts, says that Muslim education in Singapore must be broad enough to ensure that students in religious schools can understand and benefit from changes in modern society. He cited the example of Indonesia that pursues a policy of not sending its Islamic students to traditional institutions like Al-Azhar or Medina University. Instead Indonesian Ulemas are trained in American Universities like Cornell, where they are exposed to a different environment so they could be better prepared for the challenges of modernization.
Sep 1993 The CEO of the National Kidney Foundation says that Muslims not pledging their kidneys for donation might not be given priority for dialysis if they fall ill later. Some Muslims feel that a better and more drastic solution is to include the whole community in the opting-out Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA) like all other Singaporeans. Others advocate a more vigorous lobbying campaign. The HOTA allows hospital authorities to remove kidneys from people who die in accidents, unless they opted out of the Act in writing. Muslims were left out of HOTA entirely, because some doubted that Islam permits organ donation. Only 1300 Muslims have pledged their kidneys thus far, out of a potential pool of 250,000. As a result, Muslims who suffer from kidney failure rely on donations from living relatives or non-Muslim accident victims.
Apr 1994 "Muslims in multi-racial Singapore have to take a practical approach as compromises are inescapable" according to Mr. Z. Rasheed, President of the Islamic Religious Council. At a seminar on "Islam: Pluralism - Challenges and Opportunities for the Twenty First Century", he said Muslim Malays in Singapore are bound not only by the fact that they are Muslims and Malays, but they are also Singaporeans. "The three elements of this character...are distinct from each other, and in my experience, can be made compatible only by an effort of will, perhaps, only by compromise".
Dec 1994 In the 81-seat Singaporean Parliament there are 10 Malay MPs, of which two are cabinet members. Although in recent years Malays witnessed the biggest jump in income, they are still underrepresented in business and over-represented in social problems. More than half of the drug addicts in rehabilitation centers are Malays, and nearly one in every three divorce cases involves Muslims. However, community efforts are being intensified to redress the imbalance and address the problems. One group of Malays linked with the government appears complacent about developments with the Malays, while others disagree. "We were once the indigenous people of Singapore", argues R. Yacob, leader of the SMNO, so "We must be seen to be effectively ruling as part of the multiracial government". He questions whether 10 MPs can claim "the majority support of Malays". All the 10 Malay PAP MPs won seats under the group constituency scheme, in which a minority candidate joins 3 Chinese to run as a team in selected districts. Six Malay-majority electoral areas in Singapore disappeared after redistricting in 1965 (Asiaweek, 12/07/94).
Jan 1995 Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will launch a book on Muslims in Singapore. Published by the Islamic Religious Council (MUIS), Muslims in Singapore: A Shared Vision which is written by Straits Times journalist Zuraidah Ibrahim, documents the programs that have enabled Singaporean Muslims to flourish. The book is mainly targeted at the international community (The Straits Times, Singapore, 01/28/95).
Apr 1995 Atan Rafiee, a businessman, was chosen as President of the Singapore Malay National Organization (SMNO) in an uncontested election. In 1994, the organization was embroiled in a leadership struggle following the expulsion of then President Mr. Hashim Abdul Rahman, reportedly for his ineffectiveness. Rafiee who was the Vice-President temporarily assumed the presidency (The Straits Times, Singapore, 04/12/95).
Jul 1995 An analyst of Singaporean Malays, Sukmawati Haji Sirat, says that Malay MPs have successfully helped to alter the thinking of their community. For example, Malays are now reported to accept the reality of a multi-racial society, they have replaced the kampung lifestyle with an urban one, and accepted that the PAP can help in providing them with a better life. Sukmawati does stress that Malays are still underrepresented in important posts in ministries, the civil service, and the private sector (The Straits Times, Singapore, 07/12/95).
Aug 1995 A founding member of the PAP and former deputy premier, Toh Chin Chye, says that due to its size, Singapore is facing the law of diminishing returns. For the past 30 years under PAP rule, Singapore's real economic growth rate has annually averaged 8.9%. However, the growth rate for 1995 is expected to dip to 8% in comparison to 1994's 10% rate (Asiaweek, 08/11/95).
Oct 1995 Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says that the government accepts the fact that many Malay Muslims organize their social and community lives around the mosque. He further stated that social cohesion is best achieved if each community is allowed to practice its own ways. Singaporean Malays welcomed Loong's comments as previously Malay involvement in mosques was viewed as a drawback that needed to be corrected (The Straits Times, Singapore, 10/04/95). Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wants to increase the investments of Malays in Singapore. Currently, the financial stake of Malays in Singapore is $12 billion -- this includes the houses they own and their investments in the Council for the Development of the Singapore Muslim Community (also known as Mendaki). Tong said that Mendaki and the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), along with other groups from different races, will soon be allocated shares of statutory boards at discounted prices. The shares are for companies that will soon be privatized. In addition, the government will match each dollar collected by the Malays in the next five years with an annual grant of $2.5 million. The Prime Minister also stated that an intensive program should be established to train and retrain Malay workers. It is estimated that 70% of Malay workers do not have a full secondary school education (The Straits Times, Singapore, 10/04/95). The Singapore Malay National Organization (SMNO or PKMS) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have signed an agreement to coordinate their strategies for the next election that is due before April 1997. The two parties will attempt to campaign on common policies and not make derogatory remarks about each other. The SMNO and the SDP will also actively work to draw other opposition parties into their agreement (The Straits Times, Singapore, 10/22/95).
Mar 23, 1996 The Singapore Malay National Organization (PKMS) and the SDP announced that they would set up a joint-research and planning team to ensure that people in Singapore can get access to accurate information and dissenting views. (The Straits Times [Singapore])
Jun 28, 1996 Government researchers disputed the findings of PKMS-SDP report that stated that the cost of living in Singapore had risen fasted than wages during the last 5 years. A lengthy dispute between the two sides on this issue followed. (Straits Times, June 28, November 10; Business Times, July 1)
Jul 30, 1996 PKMS leaders criticized the government’s decision to ban political videotapes, explaining the move as an abuse of power. (Straits Times)
Sep 27, 1996 The PKMS stated that it would not support Malay, and former leader of the Association of Muslim Professionals, Ahmad Magad who was running in the upcoming general election as a PAP candidate. (The Straits Times [Singapore]]
Nov 25, 1996 The minister in charge of Muslim affairs for the country noted that there were no issues that the Malay community would be uniquely concerned about in the upcoming general election. (The Straits Times [Singapore])
Dec 1996 In anticipation of elections in January 1997, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and his People’s Action Party (PAP) actively campaigned, although the party faced opposition candidates for fewer than half of the available legislative seats. The PAP’s main goal was to dissuade people from voting for a Chinese community leader, Tang Liang Hong, out of the parliament. (AFP, December 31)
Dec 23, 1996 During a campaign stop, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong noted that Malays had made significant gains, economically and politically under PAP rule. Lee stated that 4 PAP candidates in the general election were ethnic Malays. (Straits Times [Singapore])
Jan 2, 1997 PAP candidates won all but 2 of 83 seats in Singapore’s national election. Prime Minister Goh hailed the election results as a sign that Singapore was rejecting "Western-style liberal democracy and freedom (which puts) individual rights over that of society." A month after the elections, Mr. Goh acknowledged that the campaign and elections had exacerbated latent ethnic tensions in the country and had threatened Singapore’s stability to some degree. The Prime Minister noted especially the divisions that had resulted from PAP’s campaign against Tang Liang Hong. After Tang lost his campaign, he fled the country because he feared PAP harassment. (The Guardian, January 3; DPA, February 6)
Mar 12, 1997 A senior official in Singapore implied that Malaysia was unsafe for visitors as he remarked that a southern Malaysian state was "notorious for shootings, muggings, and carjackings." Malaysian leaders demanded an apology for this statement and the official eventually recanted the statement, but relations between the two states remained strained, and the incident did little to soothe the concerns of ethnic Malays about the attitude of Singapore’s government. (AFP, New York Times, March 30)
Jun 10, 1997 A new group, the Malay Rights Assembly, has been set up to explore the rights of Malays in Singapore. The Assembly is a part of the Singapore National Front, a splinter group of the PKMS. One MP warned that this new group could damage racial harmony in the country. (Straits Times, June 10, June 27)
Aug 1997 Reports indicate that juvenile delinquency and youth "gangsterism" are on the rise in Singapore and that some of the youth gangs are ethnically based. (Inter Press Service, August 18)
Aug 24, 1997 During a National Day Rally, Prime Minister Goh noted that efforts should be made to attract entrepreneurial foreigners to the country to help bolster the economy, but that the people of Singapore shouldn’t let such an influx destroy the cultures in which the country is rooted. The Prime Minister encouraged the Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities in the country to make concerted efforts to ensure that a "cultural elite" within each community is maintained to ensure the perpetuation of the traditions and beliefs in the face of globalization. (Singapore Straits Times, August 31)
Feb 1998 As Indonesia’s economy approaches collapse and its social divisions emerge, Malaysia and Singapore agree to work together to try to mitigate the impact of the economic collapse both within Indonesia and within the region. Singapore’s economy has weathered the crisis better than any other in the region, to date. (Inter Press Service, February 19)
May 1998 Indonesia’s government, led for 32 years by President Suharto, collapses as a result of social unrest stemming from economic crisis. This development stirs fears of additional regional problems. (New York Times, May 24, 1998)
Sep 1998 Tensions between Singapore and Malaysia heat up following the publication of the memoirs of the former ruler of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew. Lee described Malay leaders as corrupt, immoral, and very unlike the leaders of Singapore. He further blamed Singapore's division from the Malaysian federation as a result of "Malay hegemony" and accused a Malaysian leader of instigating riots between Chinese and Malays in 1964. (AFP, September 15, September 16)
Sep 6, 1998 Prime Minister Goh urged Singapore’s ethnic Chinese to retain Chinese language and traditions in Singapore, although he warned the country should not become a mere extension of China. (AFP)
Sep 21, 1998 While addressing 2,000 members of the Malayalee community, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong warned the Singaporeans should not allow ethnic tensions in neighboring countries (namely Indonesia) to spill over into their country. He encouraged the majority Chinese to make efforts to make the minority Malay and Indian communities feel welcome in Singapore. (The Straits Times [Singapore], September 21)
Nov 5, 1998 During a surprise summit between Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir and Prime Minister Goh, the leaders agreed to narrow some of the differences between the two countries and ease restrictions each place on the other. In the midst of its first economic recession in 13 years, Malaysia also sought financial assistance from Singapore. (AFP)
Feb 1999 A report by an American woman seeking employment in Singapore revealed that 40 percent of jobs advertised in the leading paper specified race--as well as gender and age-preferences in the ads. According to her findings, young Chinese men had the best opportunities available to them. (Business Times [Singapore], February 1; The Straits Times, February 6; AFP, February 22)
Feb 10, 1999 Indonesian president Habibie stated that since he took office (spring 1998) ethnic Chinese in Indonesia did not have to contend with racist policies, but noted that Singaporeans were the "real racists," as ethnic Malays in Singapore can't become military officers. Both ethnic Chinese and ethnic Malays in Singapore lashed out at Habibie for this remark, noting that more and more ethnic Malays were becoming officers since the armed forces began addressing the issue in 1990. (Straits Times, February 10, February 11)
Feb 13, 1999 The Singapore Malay National Organization (PKMS) called upon the national government to establish a high-level council to explore ways of eliminating racial discrimination. PKMS wants the government to address more actively not only issues of discrimination in the military, but in the workplace as well. (The Straits Times [Singapore])
Mar 27, 1999 A Financial Times story reports rising racial tensions in Singapore following a series of accusations made in February of systematic discrimination. Demands by Malay and opposition leaders for true free speech are notably on the rise.
May 6, 1999 Following a speech by the prime minister which breached the issue of persistent racial division, a number of Singaporean MPs raised concerns about the need for racial harmony in the country. The officials encouraged members of each ethnic community in the country to be aware of and respect members of other groups within Singapore. (The Straits Times [Singapore]).


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Information current as of January 10, 2007