Readers of ''Imperfect Harmony'' [ The Economist ] would not have guessed that Singapore was born as an independent country precisely because its leaders refused to countenance a political arrangement based on the dominance of one race.

Having separated from Malay-majority Malaysia in 1965, the easiest path for Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues would have been to base their political legitimacy on the Chinese majority in Singapore.

Rather, against the odds and with great courage, they insisted on building a multiracial polity.

They chose English as the main language of government and education instead of Chinese. They gave every race, religion and language-group free scope to develop their heritages and culture.

Rather than enforce majority-Chinese dominance, they protected the rights of minorities.

A Presidential Council of Minority Rights was empowered to veto any legislation that discriminated against any racial or religious community.

AT PRESENT, seven out of 20 cabinet ministers are minorities, as are the chief justice and none out of. 33 judges on the Supreme Court. Malays, Indians and Eurasians have occupied senior positions in all three branches of government, including in the armed and security forces.

Our multiracial harmony remains a work in progress. As in many other multracial societies, it is harder to be a racial minority in Singapore than a member of the majority race, and there remain group differences in social and economic achievement between ethnic groups.

But all have progressed substantially year after year.

By working unremittingly on our multiracial harmony, we have avoided the racial and religious strife that have troubled many other post-colonial nations, and for that matter, America and Britain too.

The World Students Society thanks author 


High Commissioner for Singapore,



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