Tuesday 8 August 2017

Halimah Yacob to run for President

Halimah Yacob steps down as Speaker of Parliament and MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, resigns from PAP to run for President
PM Lee Hsien Loong thanks her for contributions, says she will bring warmth, dignity if elected as president
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

A day after announcing her presidential bid, Madam Halimah Yacob resigned from her political and party posts yesterday, paving the way for her nomination in next month's election.

Her resignation as MP of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC and member of the People's Action Party (PAP) was accepted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said she would bring warmth and dignity to the highest office in the land if elected.

Her move also prompted by-election calls from the Singapore Democratic Party and Reform Party.

While the GRC may not get a new MP - there is no legal requirement for a by-election when an MP leaves a GRC, even a minority MP - it will get a new grassroots adviser.

PM Lee, who is PAP's chief, said he will appoint an adviser to the ward and appoint replacements soon to the posts vacated by Madam Halimah.

* Halimah Yacob is Singapore's 8th President

The 62-year-old had also stepped down as Speaker of Parliament. The Prime Minister's Office said Deputy Speaker Charles Chong will be Acting Speaker until PM Lee nominates a person for the post when Parliament next meets.

Her resignation is necessary for contesting in next month's presidential election, which is reserved for Malay candidates to ensure the presidency reflects Singapore's multiracial society.

In a letter to PM Lee, Madam Halimah said she decided to run after careful consideration, adding she was grateful for the encouragement of friends, colleagues, family members and ordinary citizens.

Having been in the labour movement for about 40 years and in politics for 16 years, she said she would miss her residents, her constituency work in Marsiling and her role as Speaker.

But, she added: "In running for the office of the elected president, my passion and desire to serve the people continues. It is a heavy responsibility, but I hope that with the support of Singaporeans, we can do more good together."

Responding, PM Lee wrote to her saying he had no doubt she would play the role of president well. "I am confident that if elected, you... will bring dignity and personal warmth, experience of government and concern for the people to the highest office in the land."

He thanked her for her contributions as labour leader, MP, minister of state and Speaker, and praised her for being sincere, hard-working and even-handed. He held her up as an MP who spoke from her conscience, and an office-holder with an independent view. She was not afraid to argue her case, often causing the Government to rethink its position, he said.

When Madam Halimah told him of her intention to run, he had asked her to consider it seriously. "Having worked with you for many years, I knew your passion to serve and your commitment to Singapore. Now that you have decided, I wish you all the best," he said.

Yesterday, the two men who plan to contest the election said they welcomed her candidacy and looked forward to a good contest. They are Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive Mohamed Salleh Marican, 67.

PM Lee is expected to issue the Writ of Election late this month.

PM Lee thanks Halimah Yacob for her many contributions
He says former Speaker will make a good president if elected, noting how she has fought for those in need
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor and Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

As a unionist and politician, Madam Halimah Yacob had been a champion of workers, ordinary Singaporeans and the underprivileged, always pushing for a more equitable society, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He had no doubt she would make a good president if elected, he wrote in reply to her resignation letters for her various posts.

Mr Lee, secretary-general of the People's Action Party (PAP), recounted Madam Halimah's contributions as unionist, MP, minister of state and Speaker of Parliament in his three-page letter.

He recalled meeting her for the first time 20 years ago, when she was head of the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) legal department, and said she was always humble, sincere and fair in her roles.

"The president's role requires her to be non-partisan and above politics, working with the Government but making independent judgments when she exercises her custodial powers, such as when deciding on reserves and key appointments. I have no doubt that you will be able to play this different constitutional role well," he wrote.

Yesterday morning, Madam Halimah tendered her resignation as an MP of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC and a member of the PAP, in which she was a member of the central executive committee and chair of the PAP Seniors' Group. She also resigned as Speaker of Parliament in a letter to Clerk of Parliament Ng Sheau Jiuan.

In her resignation letters, she spoke of her long public service career and causes close to her heart.

Her time in NTUC, which she joined in 1978, shaped her desire to fight for workers and the disadvantaged, and to contribute to society.

Recounting the insights gained, she said the job became "a calling", teaching her the importance of building trust, which is also important in politics. "We need to secure the confidence of the people we serve. If they trust us, they will understand that we are not there for personal reasons," she added.

Madam Halimah also said the opportunities she had were made possible because Singapore is a multiracial, meritocratic nation where everyone regardless of race, language or religion can chase their dreams.

"It is with all these in mind that I have made the decision to offer myself as a candidate for the elected presidency," she told Mr Lee.

Mr Lee, in his letter, recounted the many firsts she achieved: The first Singaporean elected to the United Nations' International Labour Organisation in 1999, the first woman Malay MP since independence after being elected in 2001 in Jurong GRC and the first woman to be made Speaker of Parliament in 2013.

As an MP, she "won over residents of all races and ages with your sincerity, warmth and effectiveness", he said. And in Parliament, she was "an active backbencher" who championed cost of living issues, affordable healthcare and fair employment.

As minister of state in the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in 2011, she maintained an independent view and argued her case in Cabinet, "often causing us to rethink our positions", Mr Lee said.

In the PAP, she was on a committee that interviews potential PAP candidates as she "had a good sense of people" and was "shrewd in judging characters and motives".

Though she was a "leader and role model" in the Malay-Muslim community, her support for social causes cut across racial lines.

He added: "I am writing to put on record my thanks for your many contributions."

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob to step down from post to contest presidential election
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob will step down from her post to contest next month's presidential election, becoming the first woman to run for the highest office.

Announcing her decision to Marsiling residents and grassroots leaders at a National Day dinner last night, she noted that she had been in public service for 40 years.

"Taking part in the presidential election would allow me to continue with my service to the people of Singapore," she added to cheers and applause from residents.

The upcoming election is reserved for Malay candidates, following changes to the law last year to ensure the presidency reflects Singapore's multiracial society.

Madam Halimah, 62, will step down as Speaker, a post she has held since 2013, and as an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC today. She will also resign from the People's Action Party, where she is a member of the central executive committee.

This leaves the four-seat GRC short of an MP and without a minority MP. There is no requirement under the law to call a by-election if an MP resigns. Madam Halimah said she will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to "ensure that there are proper replacements" for her various posts when she hands him her resignation letter today. She said she will ask him to assign another grassroots adviser to her constituency.

"My main concern has always been service to the residents of Marsiling, and I want to make really sure that that is not disrupted in any way," she said. "That is the reason why I have taken a bit of time to make a decision on this matter."

The GRC's three other MPs - National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Mr Alex Yam and Mr Ong Teng Koon - who were also at the dinner, pledged to "build on the good work" that she has done.

"It was a tough decision to make," Madam Halimah, with her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee alongside her, told reporters.

"Though I will miss my residents, my constituency work and my role as Speaker... my passion to serve all Singaporeans remains unabated. It is a heavy responsibility, but I hope that with the support of Singaporeans, we can do more good together," she said.

Halimah Yacob hopes to continue living in Yishun HDB flat if elected
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob, 62, hopes to continue living in her five-room Housing Board flat even if she is elected president.

The Speaker of Parliament, who last night announced that she will run in the upcoming presidential election, said she is very comfortable in her flat in Yishun, where she has lived for more than 30 years.

She said: "I don't see why I can't continue, unless of course there are other considerations like security, for instance. Because I know it can be quite a nightmare to ensure security in public housing."

Madam Halimah's husband, businessman Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, 62, accompanied her to the National Day dinner in her constituency yesterday.

He told reporters: "She is very capable, she works very hard and she is very experienced representing Singapore in various unions, so I think she is the right person."

As for the advice he gave her, he replied: "The advice is, of course, carry on, go ahead."

He added that they would have to discuss issues like family and housing matters.

Madam Halimah's decision to contest the elected presidency follows a busy few weeks where she has met unionists, community leaders and residents, typically attending at least one event a day.

When asked what groups she will turn to for support, the Marsiling- Yew Tee GRC MP said she has had the chance to talk to many groups.

She identified the unions as the most important group, saying: "Because I spent 33 years of my life in the labour movement. They are my backbone, and I have gone to almost all the unions to ask for support personally, and they have said that they will support me."

She said she has also spoken to other groups, including Malay/Muslim organisations, women's groups and several clan associations.

But the most important thing, she added, is that she hopes to represent all Singaporeans and not just any segments or any groups.

"It is important that I represent all Singaporeans, and so I do hope that all Singaporeans will support me," she said.

Halimah Yacob: From pushcart helper to possible president
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob is Singapore's first woman Speaker of Parliament, and may well be its first woman president.

The potential rise to the highest office in the land would be a far cry from the humble beginnings of the 62-year-old.

Her father, a watchman, had died of a heart attack when she was eight, leaving her mother to raise her and her four older siblings.

Her mother initially sold nasi padang from a pushcart until she got a hawker stall licence.

Madam Halimah would then wake before sunrise to help her before going to school.

She attended Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Tanjong Katong Girls' School, and was the only one in her family to go on to university.

She graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree in 1978, and started work as a legal officer at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), where she would stay for 33 years.

Two years after graduation, Madam Halimah married her university sweetheart, Mr Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, 62, a businessman. They have five children.

At NTUC, Madam Halimah rose to head its legal services unit and its women's development secretariat.

She also became the first Singaporean on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation, where she sat from 1999 to 2011.

In 2001, she earned her Master's in Law from the National University of Singapore. She entered politics in the same year and was elected an MP in Jurong GRC, where she was re-elected two more times - in 2006 and 2011.

Madam Halimah focused on her union work, and was NTUC's assistant secretary-general from 1999 to 2007, before becoming deputy secretary-general from 2007 until 2011.

In 2011, she stepped down from the post when she became an office-holder. She was appointed Minister of State in the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports from 2011 to 2012, after which she moved to the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

She stayed there till 2013, when she was appointed Speaker of Parliament at the age of 58, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

In interviews, Madam Halimah constantly credited her successes to the support she received from her husband, mother and family.

She called her mother her heroine, and the day her mother died was the saddest moment of her life. It happened on the morning of Polling Day during the 2015 General Election, when she was contesting Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

Despite her illustrious career, she is known for being down to earth and close to the ground.

She has also built a reputation for being an unstinting champion of workers, women and the poor.

In an interview with The Straits Times shortly after she was made Speaker, she said she had no plans to move out of her five-room Housing Board flat in Yishun, which held many precious memories. This was despite expectations that she would upgrade to private property.

She also said that living in the heartland gave her a keen sense of what bothered people and the daily frustrations they faced if their estate was not well taken care of.

'Either deputy could take over as Speaker'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

One of the two Deputy Speakers of Parliament could take over the post of Speaker vacated yesterday by Madam Halimah Yacob, political observers and MPs said.

Several said a likely option is Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, who was named Acting Speaker by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement yesterday.

Mr Chong, who entered politics in 1988 and is the Punggol East MP, has been Deputy Speaker since 2011. The other deputy is Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who has held the post since January last year. Before Mr Lim, Mr Seah Kian Peng of Marine Parade GRC was the deputy from October 2011 to January last year.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Chong, Mr Lim and Mr Seah declined to say who they thought might be the next Speaker.

PM Lee will nominate a new Speaker when Parliament next meets, a Prime Minister's Office statement said.

Observers noted that Mr Chong and Mr Seah have around five years in the role under their belt, are familiar with parliamentary rules and can hit the ground running.

Speakers preside over sittings and enforce rules for the orderly conduct of parliamentary business.

"Parliament may opt for someone with a pair of steady and experienced hands to steward the legislature," said former nominated MP Eugene Tan. The reason, added the Singapore Management University law don, is that Parliament has a busy legislative agenda before it. "The rest of this Parliament's term and the initial part of the next Parliament will bring us into the most critical phase of the leadership transition."

PM Lee has said he wants to step down some time after the next general election, to be held by April 2021.

Retired People's Action Party MP Inderjit Singh also cited continuity and experience as reasons why one of the deputies may be picked.

Another possibility is to appoint a veteran minister, who would retire from the Cabinet to be the Speaker.

Mr Singh cited Mr Abdullah Tarmugi stepping down as community development, youth and sports minister to be Speaker in 2002.

A senior former minister would also have the gravitas and seniority that a Speaker should have. Should both the president and chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers be away, the Speaker assumes the duties of the president. Such ministers could include Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and Trade and Industry (Trade) Minister Lim Hng Kiang, both 63, said Mr Singh.

Junior ministers are also possible candidates. Madam Halimah was minister of state when she was nominated as Speaker in 2013.

Mr Chong said the current situation of a deputy stepping in was not without precedent. When former Speaker Michael Palmer resigned in 2012, Mr Chong was a deputy and became Acting Speaker until Madam Halimah's election. "I expect the same would happen at the next sitting in September," he said.

Marsiling to get new grassroots adviser
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

A grassroots adviser will be appointed to Marsiling soon to take care of its residents, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He made the announcement yesterday in a letter to Madam Halimah Yacob, who resigned as MP and Speaker of Parliament to stand in the presidential election.

Observers said the incoming adviser is likely to be Malay, noting the three remaining MPs for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC are Chinese.

To stand for election in a GRC, teams must field at least one candidate from a minority community.

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute research fellow Norshahril Saat said: "It is for the party to decide. But symbolically, it is likely to be a Malay adviser.''

One possible candidate is Mr Shamsul Kamar, 45, the People's Action Party's branch chairman in the Kaki Bukit ward of Aljunied GRC, which the Workers' Party holds.

But Mr Shamsul told The Straits Times: "I am not aware of any news of me going to Marsiling."

He added: "My focus is on my constituency. Since the last election, we have a lot of things on our minds, including elderly issues, jobs and infrastructure development."

Another possibility is Mr Hawazi Daipi, who stepped down as MP for the Marsiling ward in 2015.

Mr Hawazi, a retired senior parliamentary secretary, was appointed Singapore's non-resident representative to the Palestinian Territories last November.

There is no legal requirement to call a by-election to fill the spot Madam Halimah vacated.

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew died in March 2015 and Senior Minister of State Balaji Sadasivan died in September 2010, no by-election was held in their GRCs.

When Dr Ong Chit Chung died in 2008, Madam Halimah and her fellow MPs looked after his Bukit Batok ward in Jurong GRC until the 2011 General Election. No by-election was held.

None of the three deaths left the GRC without a minority MP.

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said it will "actively explore legal remedies" to compel the Government to call a by-election in the GRC. The Reform Party agrees with it.

The SDP had contested in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in the 2015 General Election.Its argument essentially is that Madam Halimah's resignation lessened the degree of representation of Marsiling-Yew Tee's Malay community in Parliament.

This argument was addressed in Parliament by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing in February.

He said the purpose of the GRC scheme was to ensure enough minority MPs, and to discourage candidates from campaigning on issues of race or religion.

These key goals would not be affected if one member of the GRC left. Hence, no by-election needs to be called if a minority candidate leaves the GRC, said Mr Chan.

* MP Zaqy Mohamad to take on role as Marsiling grassroots adviser following Halimah Yacob's resignation
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2017

MP Zaqy Mohamad from neighbouring Chua Chu Kang GRC has been appointed to take on the role of grassroots adviser to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, taking over from Madam Halimah Yacob who resigned from her political and party posts to stand in the presidential election.

Mr Zaqy, 42, will concurrently play the role of grassroots adviser to Chua Chu Kang GRC, said the People's Association (PA) in a statement yesterday.

The new appointment comes a day after Madam Halimah resigned as MP, Speaker of Parliament and member of the People's Action Party in preparation for her presidential bid.

Mr Zaqy - who entered politics in 2006 - will work with the three remaining MPs and grassroots advisers in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, Mr Ong Teng Koon and Mr Alex Yam.

He told The Straits Times: "I definitely have big shoes to fill.

"Madam Halimah has been there for two years and has worked on good programmes, like helping low-income families, so I want to make sure that they continue to run smoothly."

Mr Zaqy, who oversees Keat Hong ward in Chua Chu Kang GRC, said time management will be a major challenge as he juggles grassroots work in two constituencies.

In fact, he will attend his first event in Marsiling, a National Day observance ceremony, this morning, mere hours after a National Day countdown in Keat Hong that lasted till the wee hours.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Madam Halimah - a grassroots veteran of more than 15 years, said Marsiling residents will be in good hands with Mr Zaqy, whom she has known for more than 10 years. "He is a warm and sincere person. He is someone who will take the first step to engage residents. In Parliament, he has championed issues that relate to the welfare of the people," she wrote.

Marsiling Citizens Consultative Committee chairman Bob Shaw said his team was looking forward to working closely with Mr Zaqy to continue Madam Halimah's good work. He said: "Of course we'll miss her. She's very grounded, passionate, very hardworking. If she wants to fight for something, she will go for it."

He recalled a case of an elderly retired teacher who failed to secure a rental flat for years but managed to finally get one "because of Madam's persistence".

At the first Meet-the-People Session in Marsiling since her departure, held last night, Mr Wong, Mr Yam and Mr Ong were there to meet residents and reassure them that the services would continue.

Meet-the-People Sessions will be rotated among the team of four advisers, including Mr Zaqy.

When Madam Halimah dropped into the session last night for about an hour to bid her residents farewell, she was met by a throng of people eager to take photos with her and wish her well.

Retired contractor Tan Teck Seng, who yelled her name and gave her a salute, said she had changed the look and feel of the estate in a short two-year span.

The 63-year-old said: "She is the type that must look after people. It doesn't matter if she's an MP or president. That's all she wants to do."

Madam Halimah's resignation as MP has prompted calls for a by-election from some, like the Singapore Democratic Party and Reform Party.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing was asked about this by reporters on the sidelines of the National Trades Union Congress National Day Observance Ceremony yesterday. He said: "Under the law, there is no need for a by-election. But any decision on the by-election is the prerogative of the Prime Minister."

Halimah Yacob a front runner in presidential race: Observers
Speaker has long history of public service and is a well-known figure in the community
By Charissa Yong and Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2017

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who last night declared she would run in the presidential election, is a front runner who stands out from the other hopefuls who have thrown their hats into the ring, said political observers.

"Madam Halimah is undeniably the pacesetter among the three potential candidates, given her long track record of public service, and her being a recognisable figure not just among the Malays but also among the other ethnic groups," said ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute research fellow Mustafa Izzuddin.

With her long history of public service, she is likely to be backed by a range of groups including unions, social service organisations and women's groups.

Observers also noted that she automatically qualifies on two counts.

First, she was certified a member of the Malay community when running in the 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2015 general elections. Second, she has been Speaker since 2013, longer than the required three years spelled out in the Constitution.

Neither of the other two potential candidates - property firm chief Mohamed Salleh Marican, 67, nor marine sector company chairman Farid Khan, 62, meet the minimum of $500 million in shareholder equity set for private-sector candidates.

But the Presidential Elections Committee has the discretion to allow a candidate who does not automatically meet the criteria to stand.

Said Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) deputy director Gillian Koh: "She will be an outstanding candidate given her many years of public service, her visibility as a political leader and her standing with the union movement as well as support on the ground."

Watchers are largely doubtful that Madam Halimah's close association with the People's Action Party (PAP) would hurt her chances of victory.

Dr Koh noted that President Tony Tan Keng Yam and the late president Ong Teng Cheong both resigned from the PAP to run, and won.

An IPS Presidential Election Survey of 2,025 Singaporeans in 2011 found voters ranked honesty, fairness and the ability to represent as the most important qualities they wanted in a presidential candidate.

Independence from political parties and resonance with candidates' views on national issues were least important to respondents.

Madam Halimah is also well liked in the Malay-Muslim community, observers noted. Said Dr Mustafa: "Her announcement will be warmly welcomed by the Malay community because of her close attachment and invaluable contribution to the community as a public figure."

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong praised Madam Halimah for the care she has taken with her residents, and her dedication in improving Marsiling.

"In her two years in Marsiling, she has truly made a significant impact on the ground, and made a difference in the lives of many residents," he told reporters last night.

Grassroots leaders and residents in Marsiling expressed support for Madam Halimah's candidacy but said they would be sad to see her go.

Marsiling resident Prethu Ann Joshua, 39, a pre-school teacher, said the MP has always treated residents sincerely, and often asked after the welfare of those who were ill or in need of financial help.

Grassroots leader Clarence Goh, 64, said residents of all ages and races took to her quickly in her two years there as she was always humble and had no airs. "She made us understand what grassroots work is all about," he said.

On whether her resignation would trigger a by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, Mr Wong said the issue was discussed in Parliament in February. Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing had said a by-election will not be called if a minority candidate leaves his GRC.

Said Mr Wong: "Parliament has already given a response. I think our focus and our priority is to make sure the residents are well served. That is what we will do."

Polling Day could fall on Sept 23
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2017

Sept 23, a Saturday, is emerging as a possible day for Singaporeans to go to the polls to elect a new president, observers say.

There are three key days in the presidential electoral race: The issue of the Writ of Election, Nomination Day and Polling Day.

In February, when Parliament passed changes to the Presidential Election Act, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said the election would be pushed back to September so the campaigning period would not coincide with National Day celebrations in August.

There is a minimum 10-day period between Nomination Day and Polling Day, if there is a contest.

This means that Polling Day can be held on Sept 9, 16, 23 or 30 if campaigning is to be held next month.

Polling Day is typically held on a Saturday to minimise disruptions to schools that are used as polling stations and counting centres.

The Singapore Grand Prix will be held between Sept 15 and 17. Police resources have already been committed to the international event, making Polling Day on Sept 16 unlikely.

"Sept 30 will take us too close to the year end and major national exams," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.

The written papers of the Primary School Leaving Examination start on Thursday, Sept 28, this year.

The reserved election and higher eligibility criteria for private- sector candidates mean a "greater amount of documentation and certification", said Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh.

But speculation on the dates "may be moot" as the Presidential Election Committee may qualify only one candidate, said SMU's Professor Tan. "I think things are looking that way as Madam Halimah (Yacob) is the only one so far who qualifies outright."

Reserved presidential election affirms Singapore's core values: Halimah Yacob
It is meritocracy and multiracialism in action, says presidential hopeful
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2017

That Singapore will soon have a Malay president after 47 years is, for presidential candidate Halimah Yacob, an affirmation of two core values Singaporeans hold dear: multiracialism and meritocracy.

"It shows we don't only talk about multiracialism, but we talk about it in the context of meritocracy or opportunities for everyone, and we actually practise it," she told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Elaborating, she said it demonstrates Singaporeans can "accept anyone of any colour, any creed, any religion, at any position in our society, so long as they feel that the person can contribute".

Her resignation from her posts as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People's Action Party on Monday to contest the upcoming election has seen views opposed to changes to the presidency resurface, with some questioning the commitment to meritocracy.

Madam Halimah firmly refutes the view that the election, which will be reserved for Malay candidates, entails a trade-off between multiracialism and meritocracy.

It, in fact, ensures both founding ideals are preserved - giving fair access for all races to be represented at one time or other, in the highest office of the land, while requiring that each and every candidate meets the same stipulated criteria.

"All candidates have to qualify," she said, noting the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency last year had made clear its stand on this issue.

"If we weaken eligibility criteria for those taking part in a reserved election, yes, then we are compromising meritocracy for representation. We are not - the same criteria apply to everybody," she stressed.

The commission had proposed reserving an election for candidates from a race if it had not been represented in the presidency for five terms. It also updated eligibility criteria for private sector candidates, who must have led a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity. The changes were passed by Parliament last November.

Madam Halimah, 62, has been described by observers as the front runner. They note she is the only aspirant who automatically qualifies to stand, having held the post of Parliament Speaker since 2013.

Two other candidates who have indicated their interest to run, Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive Salleh Marican, 67, do not automatically meet the financial threshold.

They have to convince the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) they have the experience and ability to effectively carry out the functions of the office if elected.

Asked about the prospect of a contested election in the interview at NTUC Centre, Madam Halimah said she will leave it to the PEC to decide, adding: "We always go into a contest preparing for a contest."

As for talk of a reserved election being akin to affirmative action, she said the comparison is wrong because affirmative action means "you don't qualify, but you go in".

While some have questioned the seemingly higher bar for private sector candidates, she said the approach that automatically qualifies public sector candidates "has been in place since 1991".

"It is an open, transparent system," she added.

Asked if her track record of 40 years in public service - 33 of them in the labour movement - would be a key plank of her campaign, Madam Halimah laughed and said more details will be revealed soon.

"Yes, having been in public service for a significant period, that has exposed me to the policymaking process, that has stood me in good stead, to understand how the Government functions.

"So that has been extremely useful, relevant, to what I am seeking to do," she added.

President's 'first and foremost duty to Singapore': Halimah Yacob
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2017

Having been a People's Action Party MP for 16 years, Madam Halimah Yacob is aware there are those who question her ability to be non-partisan if she is elected president.

"I know people have that concern because of my past affiliation with the PAP," she told The Straits Times in an interview.

"But I just want to say that the president has a duty first and foremost to Singapore and Singaporeans, and not to any party."

She also has the track record to prove her independence, noting that whether as a unionist or parliamentarian, she had not always toed the government line.

An occasion she remembers clearly was when she abstained from voting on amendments to the Human Organ Transplant Act in Parliament in 2007. Changes tabled by then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan would allow organ recipients to reimburse donors' expenses if they wished.

She was concerned that this would lead to poor people being persuaded to "sell" their organs. The party Whip was lifted, and she abstained, sending a strong signal of her misgivings. She recalled: "I decided not to say yes. I didn't ask the Health Minister how he felt, but I can still remember the expression on his face."

She noted that former president Ong Teng Cheong was a PAP politician-turned-president, but few would describe him as "a president that really only toed the line of the Government". A public disagreement surfaced between Mr Ong and the Government in 1994, when he questioned a proposed amendment to his powers without his consent. He asked for a court ruling on the matter, and in 1995, a special tribunal of High Court judges backed the Government.

"So, it is not so much a question about your affiliation, but it is a question of how you exercise the responsibilities given to you."

If elected, Madam Halimah said, she hopes to set the tone for society. The president may not have executive powers, but can help shape society through initiatives or speeches, she said.

Under the Constitution, the president has powers to veto appointments to key public service posts and is a custodian of the reserves and a unifying symbol.

"It is not a role where I can say, 'I allocate resources to education'. I won't have that power. I can't make policies, I can't make laws," she said. "One role is not often articulated - the president can set the tone for society as a whole, and I want to build a society that is progressive, inclusive, caring and compassionate."

She cited how former presidents played that role well.

President Yusof Ishak, through his speeches and behaviour, set the tone of multiracialism during the early years of nation-building, when race relations were fractious, she said.

President S R Nathan, who set up the President's Challenge, galvanised people to come together to raise funds for charity, she added, noting President Tony Tan Keng Yam continued this.

"That is the kind of tone that can be set by the president, regardless of whether you have power to make policies."

Halimah Yacob on valuable lessons from her early struggles
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2017

In 1999, while holding a full-time job as a unionist and taking care of five school-going children, Madam Halimah Yacob decided to pursue a master's in law at the National University of Singapore.

She knew it would not be easy to balance work, family and studies, but she wanted to make sure her mind would not atrophy.

So during the 35-minute MRT commute from her Yishun home to her Shenton Way office, and in between meetings at work, she would bury her nose in her law books.

"My husband said: 'You are crazy! You have got a full-time job and you have got five children. How are you going to manage?'"

"I said: 'Let me just give it a try.'"

At age 45, she saw the juggling act as a personal challenge.

But when she was 13, having to balance her studies and work caused her a lot more pain.

Her father had died five years earlier, leaving her mother to bring up five children.

Madam Halimah, then a secondary school student at Singapore Chinese Girls' School, had to help out at her mother's hawker stall after school, on weekends and during the school holidays.

It made her so tired that she often skipped classes and was nearly expelled. "At some point, I almost wanted to give up. It was such a terrible struggle... I hit a wall," she said.

Being a poor student in a school of mostly privileged students made things worse, as she did not have the home support her classmates had. Also, it was hard for her teachers to focus their efforts on helping her as she was the odd one out in class. Eventually, it was the fear of becoming like the delinquents and drug addicts in her neighbourhood that steeled her resolve to try harder.

"I didn't want to end up like them, so I decided I had better pick myself up and improve," she said.

Madam Halimah, 62, recalled the difficult times in a matter-of-fact way at an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, with no hint of resentment.

The struggle taught her lessons that would stay with her, she said, adding that having to fend for herself made her mature faster and become more resilient.

"That is the good thing about kids who go through a great deal of hardship. You learn to overcome adversities," she added.

Over the years, she achieved several firsts, including becoming, in 2001, the first Malay woman MP since independence, and in 2013, Singapore's first woman Speaker of Parliament.

Asked how she feels about breaking the glass ceiling, Madam Halimah said she would "prefer to be known not by my gender".

"People should be assessed based on their abilities to contribute, their track record and what they can do to benefit Singapore and Singaporeans. Men, women, it doesn't matter, because there must be the desire and the passion to serve - that is the most important," she said.

It was this same attitude that her mother Maimun Abdullah held when her husband died.

"My mum didn't have any skills except the ability to cook, but she told us, 'I've got two hands and two legs, so we can survive. We lost a breadwinner but I will become the breadwinner'," she recounted.

"In that way, she's transmitted the value to me. I never thought women couldn't work, support the family and raise children at the same time," she added.

Her mother also played a big part in helping to take care of her children when she was pursuing her career, as did her husband, Mr Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, a retired businessman. He would, when her children were younger, do the marketing, take them out, fix things in the house and make sure the bills were paid on time.

Asked how her husband feels about being married to a successful woman, Madam Halimah said: "Fortunately he's able to handle that because he doesn't see me as a power woman.

"We balance out quite well at home... I believe in empowering relationships. He empowers me, I empower him. That's how we maintain the balance and harmony at home."

On why she's running and what if she doesn't win
The Straits Times, 11 Aug 2017


A I served 40 years in public service, in different capacities. My driving consideration has always been: What can I do? How can I contribute?

When the presidential election issue came about, a lot of people approached me to say: Why don't you consider running?

I gave it serious thought: Is there something I can do for Singapore and Singaporeans? And that is why I decided to take part in the presidential election.


A I don't have a Plan B. I just retire and spend more time with my family, do social work, champion the causes I have always been championing, especially disadvantaged children.

When you go into an election, you have got to also think of the possibility of losing.


A This morning, I spoke to Sister Theresa Seow from the Canossian Sisters. She sent me SMSes even before I said I am standing for election. I have had people from all walks of life, different religions, races, all coming to me and saying: "We will support you."

Singaporeans are fair-minded and open-minded. They want to look at the person who is going to stand for the position, what is the track record of that person, how can that person contribute.

I have great faith and confidence in their fair-mindedness... to look beyond the tudung, to look beyond religion, to look beyond race, to look beyond the gender, because that is what our system is all about.


A ILO jobs are very well-paying. They provide pension, they pay for your family benefits and so on, housing, everything, medical.

They give very good terms and we get to live in Geneva, Switzerland. It is a wonderful country.

But it is very different because you do the work there, you don't get the same sense of fulfilment compared to working here: You are contributing something to your own people, your own country.


A I will miss the people. I am in the constituency almost seven days a week, I go for house visits... I will miss that a great deal, talking to them, listening to them.

I go down to the hawker centre to eat, people are used to seeing me, they come and talk to me.


A I thought I heard it wrong the first time, so I didn't say anything. Then it was mentioned the second time. I almost fell off the chair. I felt very stressed out.

After the sitting, he told me it was unintended, it was a slip. I accepted his explanation.

** Parliament: Tan Chuan-Jin embarks on new role as Speaker, MPs also pay tribute to Madam Halimah
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2017

After five years at the helm of two ministries, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin on Monday (Sept 11) embarked on his new role presiding over Parliament as its 10th Speaker.

Once he had taken his seat on the Speaker's chair, six MPs rose to laud the fairness and compassion he displayed as Minister of Manpower and, later, Minister of Social and Family Development - values they felt would continue to serve him well as the head of Parliament.

They also paid tribute to Mr Tan's predecessor, Madam Halimah Yacob, who resigned as Speaker in August to contest the presidential election. She was seated in the section of the chamber reserved for dignitaries with her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, who nominated Mr Tan, said members had full confidence in his ability to conduct Parliamentary debate and proceedings with fairness.

"Everyone who has interacted with you can attest to your patience and willingness to listen to both sides of the debate," she said. "In the years ahead, the many complex and multi-faceted challenges facing Singapore will need fair, frank and honest debate. This House can expect a Speaker who will conduct the proceedings with impartiality, and enable MPs to serve their fellow Singaporeans in building a better society."

Ms Fu said Mr Tan has, over the years, demonstrated a strong passion and heart for the people, and his sincerity and affable demeanour has helped him reach out and connect with people from all walks of life - from social service organisations to foreign worker advocates.

He had, she added, earned the trust of people with different views and convictions.

"Your capacity to encourage civil dialogue and conversation among people of diverse perspectives will be something that is, as Speaker, central to ensuring we continue to have productive and healthy debates in this house," said Ms Fu.

His exposure to a range of issues - from infrastructure to manpower - will stand him in good stead as he presides over debates on a wide array of legislation and policies, she added.

"We are therefore delighted to welcome you as the new Speaker of Parliament while we'll miss your contributions in Government. In electing you to take the chair of this Parliament, this House places its full confidence in your ability to preside over proceedings with fairness and uphold the standard of this august institution," she said.

And, she quipped, she had a personal request of Mr Tan.

"We've been jogging partners along the river and along Parliament. Now that you are leading this institution, and have an office here, I hope we'll have more opportunities to run together, and look forward to a refreshed gym in Parliament," said Ms Fu to laughter.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim - who has worked with Mr Tan in the ministry and who was MP overseeing Chai Chee which Mr Tan now oversees - called the new Speaker a "champion of fair play", and was certain he would bring with him impartiality and boundless energy.

Meanwhile, Ms Tin Pei Ling - whose MacPherson ward was part of Mr Tan's Marine Parade GRC before it was carved out as a single seat ahead of the 2015 General Election - spoke fondly of Mr Tan's "heart of gold" in ensuring no one is left behind, his ability to manage issues in a balanced manner, and his gravitas, which will help him manage any situation, including debates should a deadlock arise.

These qualities make him best-placed to be Speaker, she said, adding that as Parliament becomes more diverse, it will need not just a Speaker who is fair and balanced, but one who is caring and compassionate - who will inspire Parliament to "continue to pass good laws to continue and improve the lives of our people".

When it was announced last week that Mr Tan would be stepping down as minister to take on the post of Speaker, speculation that he had been "demoted" followed. Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong on Monday said she begged to differ, questioning whether a person's measure of success should be limited to the position he holds and the salary he earns.

"We all serve. No office can limit the passion to serve. No office can limit the talent to make an impact. And any office can be one for exemplary service," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Chris de Souza hoped that Mr Tan would help "protect the sanctity of independent thought", and give room for innovative suggestions to flourish during debates.


Most of the MPs who spoke also took the chance to thank Madam Halimah for her four years as Speaker, and wished her well in her future endeavours.

Ms Fu noted that Madam Halimah had presided over an eventful period in Parliament, from the intense debate over the Population White Paper less than a month into her new role, to the passing of amendments to the Constitution in November last year.

And she also made Parliament House available to Singaporeans from all walks of life in the days after the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew for his lying-in-state, noted Ms Fu.

"She has exemplified the principles of fairness and equality," she said, adding that Madam Halimah had made sure debate was robust and civilised. "Madam Halimah leaves behind a stronger institution."

Dr Faihal said Madam Halimah has upheld the dignity of the House, and "wherever she ends up, we can have utmost confidence in her abilities to do well".

Mr Vikram Nair wished Madam Halimah the best in her presidential bid.

"While it will be a loss to this House, it will hopefully be a gain for Singapore," he said. "I look forward to having our first female head of state."


* Apex court dismisses bid for by-election in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC
No requirement for by-election when a single vacancy arises in a GRC, says court
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2019

Singapore's apex court has dismissed an appeal for the remaining three MPs in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to vacate their seats, and for a by-election to be called in the constituency.

But the Court of Appeal has reversed an earlier High Court decision that the appellant, Dr Wong Souk Yee, a resident in the group representation constituency, had to pay costs of $10,764.35 to the state, saying a serious question of constitutional law was being raised in her appeal.

In giving its decision in a 40-page written judgment, released yesterday, the Court of Appeal said the Government is not duty-bound to call a by-election when a single vacancy arises in a GRC.

This was also Parliament's intention when it amended the Constitution in 1988 to introduce the GRC scheme, the five-judge court noted.

The appeal for a by-election to be called in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC was filed by Dr Wong, after the High Court dismissed her case last April.

Dr Wong, who is assistant treasurer of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was part of the party's team that contested in the same GRC in the 2015 general election.

She had contended that the GRC seat vacated by then Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who resigned in August 2017 to run in the presidential election, must be filled under the law.

Among the arguments made by her lawyers is Article 49(1) of the Constitution, which states that when "the seat of a Member... has become vacant for any reason other than a dissolution of Parliament, the vacancy shall be filled by election".

The Court of Appeal, which had heard her appeal in January, said in its judgment that the proper interpretation of the words "seat of a Member" refer only to the seat of a single-member constituency member.

It found that Article 49(1) was "ambiguous in relation to whether and how it applies to GRCs" since it was enacted in 1965, when the concept of GRCs did not exist.

The Constitution is "conspicuously silent and does not expressly compel the other Members of the affected GRC to vacate their seats", in a situation where a single seat in a GRC has been vacated, the Court of Appeal said.

Having all the members vacate their seats is a necessary precondition for any by-election in a GRC to be held.

Looking at the relevant parliamentary debates in January 1988, the Court of Appeal said it is clear that Parliament had decided the Government was under no obligation to call a by-election in a GRC when a single vacancy arises.

This - Parliament decided then - was preferable to the alternative, which was the possibility that one Member in a GRC team could hold the rest in the team to ransom.

After GRCs were legislated in May 1988, it was introduced in the general election in September that year, with 13 GRCs carved out.

The court also rejected Dr Wong's argument that the purpose of the Constitution's Article 39A - which governs the GRC scheme - would be undermined when a minority Member of a GRC vacates his seat and minority representation in Parliament would be diminished.

This argument ignores the fact that Parliament, in debating the changes to the law, had specifically considered the risk of minority representation being diminished, the court said.

Parliament "had decided that this risk was an acceptable trade-off for preventing a Member of a GRC from otherwise being able to hold the rest of the Members of that GRC to ransom", it added.

The court also rejected Dr Wong's argument based on voters' "implied right to representation in Parliament" which, among other things, relied on Article 39(1)(a) of the Constitution.

She said the Article provides evidence that voters have the right to be represented by the full slate of elected Members returned at each general election.

But the court said the law is not a provision that deals with how midterm vacancies are to be filled, nor is it about by-elections. "Rather, it is meant to be descriptive of the composition of Parliament."

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said of the judgment: "The SDP deeply regrets this decision by the appeals court."

He wrote in a Facebook post yesterday: "Singaporeans should be able to expect that each and every MP who vacates his or her seat should be replaced by an election. This is the bedrock upon which democracy is built."

Following the resignation of Madam Halimah, who is now the president, the remaining MPs in the GRC are National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Mr Ong Teng Koon and Mr Alex Yam.

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad, from Chua Chu Kang GRC, has taken on the role of grassroots adviser to Marsiling, the ward where Madam Halimah had served.


Elected Presidency
Why was the elected presidency changed?
Presidential election set for September 2017
Parliamentary debate on changes to the Elected Presidency

Presidential Election 2017: Nomination Day on Sep 13, Polling on Sep 23
Tan Chuan-Jin to be Speaker of Parliament from 11 Sep 2017

Halimah Yacob is Singapore's First Female President; First Malay Head of State in 47 years

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