The climax to a divisive presidential campaign came on Wednesday (13 September) as Halimah Yacob became Singapore’s first female president, in what was derided by some as a foregone conclusion.
The former speaker of parliament was formally inaugurated as the nation’s President-elect by walkover as there were no other eligible candidates. Halimah was the only candidate to be issued a Certificate of Eligibility by the Presidential Elections Committee, with presidential hopefuls Salleh Marican and Farid Khan having been denied.
Addressing about 1,000 supporters at the open field in the People’s Association headquarters along King George’s Avenue, the 63-year-old former Marsiling-Yew Tee MP acknowledged the unhappiness of those who opposed the concept of a reserved presidential election.
“I know that some have some doubts about the reserved election and I want to tell you, as your President-elect, I promise to work with everyone. I am president for everyone and I intend to serve all without any hesitation or doubts,” said Halimah.
“I also want to tell you that even though this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I’m a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans, and my duty remains only to you.”
With regard to becoming Singapore’s first female president, as well as its first Malay head of state in almost 50 years, Halimah said, “This is a proud moment for multiculturalism, multiracialism in our society.
“This shows that multiraciualism is not just a slogan… but it means that it really works in our society: That everyone has a chance to reach the highest office of the land…. this is not just tokenism.”
One of Halimah’s supporters who endured the heat of the midday sun was businessman Vijalal, 66, a grassroots leader from her former Marsiling ward. He praised her as a leader with the “personal touch” and someone who “treats everyone equally”.
He recalled one occasion when 120 people attended Halimah’s weekly Meet-The-People session, and she stayed till midnight to attend to everyone.
Asked if her lack of an electoral mandate undermines her legitimacy, Vijalal replied, “She already has a mandate. She was a Speaker and an MP and she was in the unions. Her credentials are her mandate.”
His friend Shannmugam, 47, a foreman and Woodlands resident, agreed. “There’s nothing to undermine. She’s a very good leader and a very good person. We have no objections to her becoming president,” he said.
“Even if there was a fight, Madam would win,” he added.
The road to a reserved presidential election began more than a year ago, when a nine-man Constitutional Commission held public hearings on the Elected Presidency. In November 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the 2017 presidential election would be reserved for Malay candidates.
This sparked a constitutional challenge by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock as to the timing of the reserved election, which ultimately failed.
The campaign has also thrown up much online debate about issues of race, religion and the democratic process. On Monday, news of Halimah becoming the only eligible candidate for the presidential election also sparked the #notmypresident hashtag.