The Constitution and the Protection of Minorities: A Judicious Balance?
In Evolution of a Revolution: Forty Years of the Singapore Constitution, Thio Li-ann & Kevin YL Tan (eds.), (Routledge-Cavendish, 2008)
24 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2018
Date Written: 2008
From the outset of independence, Singapore has had to deal with the problem of placating the Malay minority and accommodating their interests within the Chinese majority state. The Singaporean model or adopted system of minority protection is however not strictly a legal one. It incorporates an approach which may be described as one of ‘political management’, where the government seeks to judiciously balances majority and minority interests in a manner that is seen to be fair and just to the electorate. This ‘judicious balancing’ approach is grounded upon Singapore’s pragmatic and paranoid mode of governance, where nothing is left to chance. Since the goal of minority protection is pragmatic, that is to ensure political stability and public order necessary for economic development, it is considered that a legal approach may undervalue non-legal considerations such as competing state objectives and social goods and may not recognise or give sufficient regard to situations where national goals are better served by denying or minimising protection for legally recognised minorities. This often occurs where there is a need to maintain good relations between majority and minority groups differentiated by race and religion. Inter-racial and inter-religious relations are considered fragile and in need of constant management. This chapter examines the background, underlying political philosophy and impetus for the ‘judicious balancing’ model of ethnic management that is practised in Singapore. It critically examines the methods used to achieve such a balance between the interests of majority and minority groups in Singapore, through law, policy and other informal methods. This is set in the context of the legal culture that shapes Singapore public law, which evinces an aversion to rights litigation, preference for unwritten standards of governance rather than institutionalised monitoring processes and informal modes of conflict resolution.
Keywords: constitutional law, minority protection, constitutional interpretation, racial minorities
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