PM Lee did much for S’pore’s Malay-Muslims: Abdullah Tarmugi


“PM LEE has done much for Singapore’s Malay-Muslims,” said former Speaker of Parliament (2002-11) and Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs (2000-02) Abdullah Tarmugi. The retired PAP veteran was interviewed by for his take on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s legacy. 

“He continues to strengthen and improve the efforts of his predecessors Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong, in improving the condition of the community,” Mr Abdullah added. 

“There are now more and better-educated Malays. Increasingly more of the community have better-paying jobs and more live in better homes,” said Mr Abdullah. “The latest initiative of the government to allow Muslim hospital workers to wear the hijab [head covering for Muslim women] was a most welcome and appreciated move.”

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Source: The Straits Times© Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission. 

Indeed, the percentage of Malays with degrees has doubled (from 5.5 per cent to 10.8 per cent in the past decade. These university qualifications trend towards lucrative jobs in important sectors like Information Technology, Health Sciences and Engineering Sciences too. And hardworking healthcare workers dressing with the hijab, from doctors to nurses to attendants, are now a common sight across Singapore’s clinics and wards. 

Cherishing and protecting diverse Singaporeans

Mr Abdullah’s assessment comes with a lot of authority. He is a permanent member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights for his longstanding work against racial discrimination. He is also an expert on urbanism and cities. So he responded thoughtfully and frankly when asked him about how PM Lee had impacted upon Singapore’s common spaces over the last two decades.  

“Singapore is one of the most multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in the world. This diversity is something which we cherish, embrace and celebrate,” said Mr Abdullah, who was on the ground hearing out the everyday concerns of his Siglap ward residents for over a quarter-century between 1984 to 2011. “But it has its own demands and problems too. Now and then, this improbable city-state is often unwittingly affected by or drawn into the religious or ethnic conflicts of the surrounding region. Or even of those further away from our shores.” 

So much so that PM Lee has consistently made racial harmony a key priority of his administration. Even during his final major speech as Singapore’s leader, he called on Singaporeans of every race and ethnicity to remember that “whatever our differences, we are Singaporeans first and foremost.”

“Those who govern Singapore are always mindful of the need to maintain racial and religious harmony in the country. PM Lee’s stewardship sees to it that our policies and institutions do not allow any discrimination of the minority communities or of any religion in Singapore,” added Mr Abdullah. 

Like how PM Lee decisively moved on the tudung issue, and is introducing a new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act to foster moderation and tolerance between Singaporeans

“Our government policies and institutions also seek to maintain and expand our common space to ensure that no one is disadvantaged or left out on account of his race, religion or culture,” said Mr Abdullah. 

Confidence and competence everywhere

With all this mention of policy action and careful deliberation on racial issues, we had to ask: How was it like working day-to-day with PM Lee? 

“PM Lee is a boss expecting the best from you, as any good leader would. At the same time, he is not without empathy or consideration for any shortcoming or difficulty you may face, and readily — albeit firmly — offering advice or alternatives that could improve outcomes,” stated Mr Abdullah.     

“And I’d describe PM Lee in the following words: A born leader in the way he carries himself and in his instincts and capabilities. Smart, articulate — in English as well as in Chinese and Malay — and assured in his speeches and interactions with world leaders of every political shade, PM Lee exudes confidence and competence everywhere,” added the veteran Speaker. 

Even so, when it comes to the man or woman in the street (like in Ang Mo Kio GRC), PM Lee is a person who relishes the small moments with them, no matter their backgrounds. 

“There is also a softer, gentler side to him when interacting with ordinary Singaporeans, especially with his constituents and grassroots members. At such events, PM Lee is a smiling (almost playful, at times) MP, often breaking into his characteristic full-throated laughter!” said Mr Abdullah.  

This is a promising glimpse into the future. Even while PM Lee steps down as leader, he has assured Singaporeans that he will “remain in government and continue serving as MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC. I will do whatever I can to help PM Lawrence and his team succeed.”

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Source: MCI 

PM Lee will also continue serving on the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. Like Mr Abdullah, he is a permanent member of the Council, and will keep considering and offering solutions for matters affecting any racial or religious community. “The Government supports the Malay/Muslim community in its efforts over the decades, and will continue to do so,” he took special care to point out at the National Day Rally 2022. 

Rest assured, then, that no matter where in Singapore politics — whether as the country’s PM, Ang Mo Kio MP, or Council mainstay — PM Lee will be there to further build up Singapore’s Malay-Muslims into a community of success.