Questions about her independence as a prospective president and the possibility of a walkover dominated at a media conference where former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob unveiled key members of her campaign team on Tuesday (29 August).
Responding to repeated questions about her long affiliation with the People’s Action Party (PAP) and perceptions by Singaporeans that she would not be an independent figure, the 63-year-old responded, “You must look at the candidate, and the contributions and achievements of the candidate, more than anything else.
“And if you look at the work that I’ve done, as a trade unionist, as a Member of Parliament, as the Speaker of Parliament and so many different fields – whatever I have done has been putting the interests of the people first, rather than looking at my party colours,” said Halimah, who added that anyone who put party colours before the interests of the people would be doing the nation a “gross disservice”.
The former Member of Parliament (2001-17) also pointed to the late Ong Teng Cheong, Singapore’s first elected president. “He was the Deputy Prime Minister. He was a senior party member. Are we in any doubt that he was independent, that he had an independent mind? No.”
Halimah added emphatically, “Every day we get, we got to look at ourselves and ask ourselves: who are we serving? So I have asked myself that question, and I know where my loyalty lies.
“My loyalty lies to Singapore and Singaporeans and nothing else.”
‘Honesty starts with ourselves’
Speaking to reporters at the NTUC Centre, Halimah revealed her campaign slogan ‘Do good Do together’ and the key members of her team. They include Mary Liew, president of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC); Chia Yong Yong, a Nominated Member of Parliament; Lim Hock Chee, CEO of supermarket chain Sheng Siong; and NUS academic Associate Professor Simon Tay.
“A president should unify the nation and channel our shared values into doing good for the country, and wholeheartedly serve Singapore and Singaporeans. I hope to be the kind of president that Singaporeans want and will look up to,” said Halimah.
Thus far, three individuals have declared their interest in running in the election: Halimah, Second Chance Properties CEO Mohd Salleh Marican and Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan Kaim Khan.
However, the trio still has to be certified as eligible candidates by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) and as members of the Malay community by the Community Committee. Halimah qualifies for the criteria set out for public-sector candidates as she held the office of Speaker for about four years.
In the event of Halimah becoming president via a walkover, Yahoo News Singapore asked if she was concerned about perceptions that she did not earn the presidency, and that it was handed to her.
Noting that it was up to the PEC to certify the candidates, Halimah said the presidential election is a democratic process where the eligibility criteria is transparent. “That being the case, if it is considered that other candidates are not suitable, then it does not mean that the democratic process is undermined.”
The democratic process is still upheld because everyone who qualifies is eligible to take part in the election, so I don’t see how that can amount to undermining of the process.”
Simon Tay also interjected to point out that former president S R Nathan was elected via walkovers for two terms. “I think at the end of his two terms, President Nathan erased any question mark over his presidency. I think history has borne out that Singaporeans, I think, recognise a good president when they have one.”