Singapore: After 50 years of nationhood, it is only a matter of time before Singapore sees a prime minister from an ethnic minority, including Indian, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Friday.
"It is inevitable that at some point, a minority prime minister - Indian, Malay, Eurasian, or some mixture - is going to be a feature of the political landscape because we have meritocracy, it is an open system, it is just a matter of time," said Tharman, who himself is of Sri Lankan Tamil-origin.
The deputy premier, who is also the Finance Minister, said as he responded to a question from Washington Post columnist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria on whether Singapore could see an Indian prime minister.
Zakaria was chairing the lunchtime dialogue at the Institute of Policy Studies' SG50+ Conference to discuss what lies ahead for Singapore, the city-state that boasts of people belonging to different ethnicities.
Singapore celebrated its 50 years of independence today.
Tharman began his answer candidly by stating that he need not leave the stage as he is not interested in the job, but added that it was inevitable that Singapore will have a minority Prime Minister.
"Singapore is evolving, the common space that everyone is growing up in is much larger than pre-independence or even in our early decades," local media quoted Tharman as saying.
"It is a pretty strong common space, an education system where everyone is educated, first language English. You go through common experiences together, National Service (compulsory enlistment for male youths), so it is a matter of time," he said.
The question of whether and when Singapore might see a minority prime minister has cropped up from time to time.
Days after US President Barack Obama was elected, becoming the first black president, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was asked whether Singapore was ready for a non-Chinese PM at a dialogue with Malay-Muslim community leaders.
Lee said he thought it was possible for Singapore to have a non-Chinese PM. But, he added: "Will it happen soon? I don't think so, because you have to win votes."
"And these sentiments - who votes for whom,and what makes him identify with that person - these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it."
An estimated 75 percent of Singapore population is of Chinese-origin, with Malays, Indians and others making up the rest of the over five million people in the city-state.