Thursday 14 September 2017

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

I want to be president for all: Halimah Yacob
First woman and second Malay to hold office will be sworn in today as Singapore's eighth head of state
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob yesterday pledged to be a president for all Singaporeans, after she was elected unopposed in the first election reserved for Malay candidates.

She will be sworn in as Singapore's eighth president at the Istana today, and create history by becoming the country's first woman president and only the second Malay to hold the office after founding president Yusof Ishak.

The former Speaker of Parliament was the only candidate who qualified to stand for election, after the Presidential Elections Committee ruled out businessmen Salleh Marican and Farid Khan for failing to meet constitutional criteria.

Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong declared her President-elect in a walkover around noon - drawing loud cheers from about 700 supporters at the People's Association Headquarters in Jalan Besar.

The move to raise the qualifying criteria for candidates and reserve this year's election, coupled with the absence of a contest, had drawn fierce criticism from some quarters.

Madam Halimah, 63, acknowledged doubts about the reserved election in her speech yesterday.

She later told reporters: "Election or no election, my promise is to really serve everyone. I will serve with great vigour, with a lot of hard work, with the same passion and commitment that I have served... for the last four decades."

The nation's eighth head of state came from humble beginnings, helping her mother sell nasi padang from a pushcart.

After joining the National Trades Union Congress as a legal officer in 1978, she rose through the ranks to become its deputy secretary-general, gaining a reputation as a tireless champion of workers' rights.

She became an MP in 2001, was appointed Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth in 2011, and elected Speaker in 2013.

More than 500 unionists were at the nomination centre to support her yesterday, many decked out in orange - the colour she chose for her campaign to represent unity.

Madam Halimah said her election as a Malay president "shows very positively" how Singaporeans practise multiracialism - that everyone has a chance to become president.

Her becoming the nation's first female president sends a serious message about gender diversity, she added. "Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard."

Flanked by her husband, retired businessman Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, and proposer, Singapore Business Federation chairman Teo Siong Seng, she thanked her supporters and all Singaporeans for their good wishes.

Madam Halimah - who said yesterday that she would continue living in her Housing Board flat in Yishun - urged Singaporeans to stand together to confront the challenges facing the nation.

"I ask that you focus on the similarities we have, and not on our differences," she said, stressing that the country has to stay united.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said she will bring to the presidency her experience of working with Singaporeans from all walks of life, and championing workers and disadvantaged groups.

He called her yesterday to congratulate her. In a Facebook post, he wrote: "The president is the apex of our political system and the symbol of our multiracial, multi- religious nation. I am confident that Madam Halimah will fulfil her role with distinction."

Singapore's multiracialism not just a slogan: Halimah
Having second Malay president shows everyone is given opportunities, regardless of race or religion, she says
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

That Singapore has its second Malay president - after 47 years - shows multiracialism is not just a slogan, said Madam Halimah Yacob, who was yesterday elected unopposed in the country's first reserved presidential election.

In a speech to several hundred supporters, she said: "I believe that this is a proud moment for Singapore. This is a proud moment for multiculturalism, multiracialism, for our society.

"This shows that multiracialism is not just a slogan - something that is good for us to say, something for people to hear. 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 good for now, she added. It will also be good for generations to come because it shows "very positively how Singapore practises multiracialism".

Her supporters gathered at the open field in the midday sun at the nomination centre, the People's Association Headquarters, cheering her on with whistles and clappers.

Multiculturalism was on display at the field, where a sea of supporters mostly dressed in orange - the colour Madam Halimah chose for her campaign as it represents unity - whooped with joy as the 63-year- old was declared President-elect.

A sizeable majority came from the unions, where Madam Halimah spent more than three decades fighting for workers' rights - first as legal adviser, before rising to be deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

Others travelled across the island from heartland wards where she served as MP or represented a diverse array of community groups.

Women in orange tudungs and Buddhist monks in saffron robes alike braved the hot sun as Madam Halimah delivered her speech in English and Malay.

Singapore has not had a Malay president since its first head of state Yusof Ishak, who took office in 1959 and died midway through his third term in 1970 at the age of 60.

The reserved presidential election was introduced this year following changes to the Constitution to ensure that members of all communities have a chance to become president from time to time.

Madam Halimah said in her Malay speech that Singapore having its second Malay president is proof that everyone is given opportunities, regardless of race and religion.

"This is a good example for Singapore. It shows that if we are given opportunities, if there is support, then regardless of race, we will reach a state we aspire to," she said.

Various community groups extended their congratulations to her yesterday. The Singapore Malay Youth Library Association (Taman Bacaan) said it believed she has what it takes to unify Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Similarly, the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations noted that the head of state serves as the "embodiment of our nation's harmonious multiracial identity". It said: "The Chinese community is confident that under Madam Halimah's capable leadership, Singapore will continue to prosper and progress as one united nation."

Madam Halimah told reporters that a central message in her speech at her inauguration today will be on the core values of multiracialism and meritocracy, which have brought Singapore to where it is today and which are dear to her.

Gender diversity not just tokenism, says President-elect
With determination and hard work, every woman can aspire to highest office: Halimah
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

The sound of a glass ceiling shattering reverberated around the People's Association Headquarters at 12.10pm yesterday, when Madam Halimah Yacob declared to her supporters: "I stand before you as the first female president of Singapore."

A roar of approval greeted the figurative breakthrough. And the loud cheers seemed to lift Madam Halimah as her serious face broke into a wide smile.

"I can see that many of our sisters here are delighted. I delight with you," said the 63-year-old, beaming as she placed her hand over her heart.

She added that her new post "shows that this is not just tokenism, that when we talk about gender diversity, we are not just chanting slogans, but that we really mean it".

"Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard," she said.

Singapore has had only three women full ministers in its modern history, and 23 of its 100 MPs today are women.

Madam Halimah's historic achievement was hailed by the Singapore Muslim Women's Organisation (PPIS).

Its president Rahayu Mohamad, 50, said in a statement: "Madam Halimah has shown us that there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."

Madam Rahayu acknowledged that Madam Halimah's resignation as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People's Action Party's top decision-making body was a loss to the representation of women in Parliament.

But "as the first female president, Madam Halimah will continue to be an inspiration to the women of Singapore, especially our future leaders, who will be encouraged to take on new challenges, embrace leadership roles and contribute to nation- building", she added.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) also congratulated Madam Halimah in a Facebook post.

It urged her to speak up for gender equality, adding: "We also hope that more will be done to improve access to politics for all of Singapore's women."

Ms Rahayu Mahzam, 37, a Jurong GRC MP who oversees the Bukit Batok East ward Madam Halimah used to helm, said: "While we see more successful women now defying norms, the harsh reality is that there are still people who doubt a woman's capability."

But she was confident that Madam Halimah would once again set new standards and redefine society's perception of a woman.

"Regardless of the circumstances that led to her presidency, she worked hard to get to where she is - to attain that respect and stature," said Ms Rahayu.

"Her humble background never stopped her, and that is inspiring. She is the epitome of the principle that if you are willing to work hard, you can achieve a lot," she added.

PM Lee Hsien Loong confident Halimah Yacob will fulfil role with distinction
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is confident that Madam Halimah Yacob, who will be inaugurated today as Singapore's eighth president, will fulfil her role with distinction.

"I hope all of us will support her as our next president," he said in a Facebook post yesterday, three hours after Madam Halimah was declared President-elect.

"I look forward to working with her to serve Singaporeans and the nation."

PM Lee said he had called Madam Halimah to congratulate her, and cited her record of serving the public as a unionist, community leader, MP, minister of state and Speaker of Parliament.

"She will bring to the presidency her long experience working with Singaporeans from all walks of life, and championing workers and disadvantaged groups," he said.

It has been a whirlwind month for Madam Halimah, a long-time public servant who resigned from her political posts last month to contest the presidential election.

She has, in the week since announcing her bid, been preparing for her campaign and assembling a team. On Monday, she was the only presidential hopeful declared eligible to contest the reserved presidential election by the Presidential Elections Committee.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said: "The president is the apex of our political system and the symbol of our multiracial, multi-religious nation. I am confident that Madam Halimah will fulfil her role with distinction."

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also took to Facebook with fond words for Madam Halimah, his former teammate in Jurong GRC.

Madam Halimah was an MP in the constituency for 15 years, before moving to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC for the 2015 General Election.

Working with her in Jurong was a privilege, said Mr Tharman, who noted that she was a source of strength to the people around her.

"What I have always liked about Madam Halimah is her uprightness and sheer human decency.

"She takes a genuine and personal interest in people, especially when things go wrong for them, and works to put things right. No matter who they are," he said.

And her life - "her determination to rise from a very humble start, working hard to achieve her aspirations and always wanting to do good for others" - inspires, added Mr Tharman. "It is the Singapore story, and what it must always be."

Added Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim: "There has been much discussion about the elected presidency. Now it is time for us put aside our differences, rally behind President-elect Halimah as she embarks on the important task of building a stronger Singapore."

PM Lee thanks Farid Khan, Salleh Marican
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

As he congratulated incoming president Halimah Yacob yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also took the opportunity to thank the two men who offered themselves as potential candidates.

Mr Farid Khan, 61, chairman of a marine services company, and Mr Salleh Marican, 67, chief executive of a property company, were informed by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) on Monday that they did not qualify to contest.

Neither had helmed a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity in the most recent three years, a key requirement for private sector candidates.

In a Facebook post, Mr Lee noted that it could not have been easy for them to decide to contest, given the media attention and public scrutiny they would face.

"They respected the Constitution and conducted themselves with propriety and decorum. They did not confuse people with wild promises that exceeded the remit of the president, which had happened before," he said.

He also thanked them for accepting the PEC's decisions, saying: "This is the way to make our democratic processes work properly and in the interest of Singaporeans."

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim also thanked Mr Farid and Mr Salleh for stepping forward. Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said: "I hope that they will continue to contribute to the community and serve Singapore."

Although this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president: Halimah Yacob

I look forward to working very closely with you, and I believe we can do good together, and I invite you to do good together with me

First of all, I would like to thank all my supporters who are present here today. I am very appreciative and deeply grateful to all of you for your presence here today - members of the trade unions, community groups, religious groups and also members of the public.

I know you have been waiting here for a few hours and it is really hot under the sun, so thank you.

I am really very grateful to you because you have taken time off from your work and made the effort to come all the way here.

I (also) want to say from the bottom of my heart a very big thank you to all Singaporeans, for your support, your encouragement and your good wishes.

Over the last two weeks, I have been walking the ground very extensively. I have met many Singaporeans from all backgrounds, young, old, in many, many places. I have spoken to them and I am so heartened. I am really very grateful for their good wishes, their encouragement and their support.

Many of you not only gave words of encouragement and support, many of you patted me on the back too. Many of you also hugged me. And many of you told me you would support me even without me asking or saying anything. That warmed my heart tremendously and also made my journey here to the nomination centre all the more pleasant... So, once again, thank you to all Singaporeans. Thank you, Singaporeans.

I feel really very blessed as I start my journey.

I know some have doubts about the reserved election. 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 hesitation.

I also want to tell you that although this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I am a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans. My duty remains only to you.

Although there is no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same. There is no diminution, even by one bit, of my desire to serve you.

In fact, my resolve to work hard, to work tirelessly and with great sincerity is even greater. These are values which I hold very dear, when I perform my public duties, my public service, and it means even more to me now that I have become your President-elect.

I also stand before you as a second Malay president in 47 years. I believe that this is a proud moment for Singapore. This is a proud moment for multiculturalism, for multiracialism, for our society.

This shows that multiracialism is not just a slogan, something that is good for us to say, something for people to hear. 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 good for now, but good for generations to come because it shows very positively how Singapore practises multiracialism.

I also stand before you as the first female president of Singapore.

I can see that many of our sisters here are delighted. I delight with you because it shows that this is not just tokenism, that when we talk about gender diversity, we are not just chanting slogans, but that we really mean it.

Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard.

Dear Singaporeans, we have a lot of work to do together. We know, and many of you here who are workers, you know we have both internal challenges and external challenges that we need to overcome. I ask you, dear Singaporeans, now that the election is over, to stand together so we can focus on our core priorities to ensure Singapore remains a great home for everyone.

Dear Singaporeans, no one person or persons can achieve this task. We need every Singaporean to stand shoulder to shoulder to achieve for ourselves the best that we can be. We have not reached the peak yet...The best is yet to come. But the best can be achieved only if we work together so that we can go on improving our lives and those of our children.

I ask that you focus on the similarities we have and not on our differences.

In 1965, when we became independent, no one thought that we could survive. But look at us today. We are Singaporeans, we are in a country that we are really proud of. We have come a long way, but we have an equally long way ahead of us.

No one owes us a living. We owe it to ourselves to build a great nation that we can all be proud of and which we can hand over to our children and grandchildren with great pride. We must stay united. We must beat with one heart. We must move in one direction.

I am deeply humbled to be given this opportunity to serve all of you. I look forward to working very closely with you, and I believe we can do good together, and I invite you to do good together with me.

Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT-ELECT HALIMAH YACOB, in her acceptance speech at the nomination centre yesterday.

The man behind her successful career
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

The popular adage that behind a successful man is a woman is also true the other way around for Singapore's first woman president.

Madam Halimah Yacob's husband, retired businessman Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, has provided the support she needed to pursue her career.

He would help look after and play with their five children when they were young, shop for groceries and take care of household matters like paying the bills.

Since she announced her presidential bid last month, he has also been her ever-present companion at public events. Today, he will be the first man to become a presidential spouse in Singapore.

Madam Halimah and Mr Mohamed met as undergraduates at the University of Singapore, the predecessor of the National University of Singapore.

They were in different faculties - she in law and he in science - but encountered each other at activities organised by the Muslim Society and at the canteen in the student union house.

"There is a canteen there, you are bound to bump into each other," Madam Halimah had said in an interview last month.

"Of course, he pursued me!"

Although Mr Mohamed was playing the guitar and the drums in a band then, he never invited Madam Halimah to listen to him play and she also never went on her own volition.

But these days, he sings to her new songs that he has learnt.

The couple have five children, two sons and three daughters, between the ages of 26 and 36. Some accompanied their mother to the nomination centre yesterday, but did not talk to the media.

Mr Mohamed, who was described as media-shy by Madam Halimah, has so far not said much to the media.

But when asked yesterday if he was proud of his wife becoming the president, he said with a grin: "Of course!"

Halimah wants to continue living in her HDB flat
President-elect says she has no plans to move out of family home in Yishun
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

President-elect Halimah Yacob says she will continue to live in her sixth-floor Housing Board flat, making her Singapore's first head of state to live in public housing while in office.

Shortly after being declared the winner in an uncontested presidential election yesterday, she told reporters that she had no plans to move out of her family home in Yishun.

"I am still staying in Yishun," the 63-year-old said. "It is a very nice, comfortable place, and I have been living there for many years."

Her husband, retired businessman Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, added with a smile that there was no need to move, as the flat was "as huge as a penthouse".

The jumbo flat is made up of a four-room and a five-room flat bought on the resale market, and it is where Madam Halimah has lived with her family for more than 30 years. She has two sons and three daughters, aged 26 to 36.

Singapore's past presidents had lived in private housing or at the Istana, and Madam Halimah's decision has raised questions about security arrangements.

Mr Lee Hooi Theng, 68, who is semi-retired and lives in a neighbouring block, doubts Madam Halimah will be able to continue living there "for security's sake and her convenience".

However, police have intensified security measures in the area.

Asked about security, Madam Halimah said: "I will leave it to the security department. I think they know how to secure the area."

The Police Security Command, tasked with protecting government leaders, already had arrangements there when she was Speaker of Parliament before she left to run for president.

Security experts interviewed said threat levels are different for different leaders, and the threat to a head of state is considered higher than that to a Speaker.

Security will have to be beefed up, and more officers and equipment, like surveillance cameras, are likely to be deployed.

Mr Raj Joshua Thomas, 38, president of the Security Association of Singapore, said: "Anything can be secured. It is just a matter of how much inconvenience that might cause to others in the block."

Meanwhile, neighbours are happy to have her in their midst.

Madam Halimah's neighbour from two floors up, student Wan Tian Chong, 24, said it would be "quite cool" if she continued to live there. "Having a president living in your block, that is something you don't see every day," he said.

Madam Halimah sees another advantage to living in her flat: "When I come back from work, I will climb up the six floors, and if I have time, I will climb down."

She added: "The Istana grounds are very big, so that gives me the chance to walk around and exercise further to keep myself fit."

No let-up in online criticism of uncontested election
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

In the end, Madam Halimah Yacob won the presidential election in a walkover, without any need to campaign and fight for votes.

But the run-up to yesterday was still bruising, with some Singaporeans using hashtags like #notmypresident and #hardlymahpresident - a pun on her name - to protest against not being able to vote.

Asked by reporters yesterday if she was ever demoralised during the process, she said that years of public service had taught her to focus on her goals and objectives - the most important being to improve the lives of people.

"You focus on the people you want to serve. That has always been my motto," she said without betraying any emotion about the online vitriol directed at her.

"I focus on how to improve their lives, whether by introducing programmes or helping them, and that will continue to be my emphasis."

Madam Halimah, 63, was the only candidate given the green light to contest the election reserved for candidates from the Malay community. She qualified on account of having held the post of Speaker of Parliament since 2013.

Two other hopefuls - marine services firm chairman Farid Khan, 61, and property company chief executive Salleh Marican, 67 - did not qualify. Neither had run a company with $500 million in shareholder equity for the most recent three years, a key threshold for private- sector candidates.

The uncontested election sparked criticism from some Singaporeans, who took to social media to express their disappointment.

Facebook user Melanie Felicia, commenting on The Straits Times' Facebook page, said: "We weren't even given any chance to vote, so what election?"

While three of the five presidential elections so far have been walkovers, analysts say the anger this time could stem from politics becoming more contentious.

National University of Singapore sociology professor Tan Ern Ser said this was further fanned by social media. "We haven't quite established a stable social compact in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era."

A pervasive view among critics was that fair competition had been made impossible by recent constitutional changes to raise the eligibility criteria for candidates, and to reserve elections for a racial group not represented in the presidency for a period of time.

Twitter user Darryl Kang charged that the Government made so many changes to the Constitution so as to allow Madam Halimah to run uncontested.

Political scientist Lam Peng Er said some Singaporeans, rightly or wrongly, saw the changes as an attempt to block former MP Tan Cheng Bock from running.

Dr Tan narrowly lost the 2011 presidential election to former president Tony Tan Keng Yam in a four-way race. Prior to the 2017 contest being declared a reserved election, he said that he intended to run again.

Yesterday, Dr Tan Cheng Bock congratulated Madam Halimah in a Facebook post, but added that she will "occupy the most controversial presidency in the history of Singapore".

Dr Tan, who unsuccessfully challenged the timing of the reserved election in court, said: "Everyone knew Madam Halimah would win. Still, we looked forward to a poll to tell the Government what we thought about the election."

He added: "We did not get a chance to speak with our vote this round, but the time will come."

Dr Lam, a senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute, said the ruling People's Action Party was aware that it may have to "pay a political price", a point Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing noted during a forum last week on the elected presidency.

Many online critics were not upset with Madam Halimah, but were unhappy with the state of affairs.

A Facebook user by the name of William wrote in The Straits Times Facebook page: "I have no issues with her as a person, but I don't like how she was 'put on the throne' by you- know-who. I don't care what race, religion, gender my president is as long he or she (wins) the presidency fair and square."

Others, like Ms Michelle Tan, urged people to move on from the "unpleasant" election and to "stop using words that hurt not only Madam Halimah and her family, but the nation as a whole".

NUS' Prof Tan said Madam Halimah had "become collateral damage of sorts". "People are not angry with her, but with the new rules."

But, he added, "given her personality and public persona, and if she uses her influence to contribute to enhancing the well-being of Singaporeans, she would make her mark as president".

And while there was little she could do to "heal" divisions, she had "already set the right tone by saying that she would be the president of all Singaporeans".

Dr Lam hoped "some good will come out of this despite reservations and people questioning the Government's motivations".

Having Madam Halimah, who is from a minority community and wears a tudung, "sends a signal to our neighbours that Singapore is a bona fide multicultural society".

"We should wish her all the best and keep an open mind," he added.

Social media abuzz over walkover
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2017

The election for the president may be all but over, but online, the debate on the outcome rages on.

Some are unhappy about the lack of a contest, even if they think Madam Halimah Yacob, the only eligible candidate, might make a good president.

This group yesterday spoke up on social media under the hashtag #notmypresident.

They were countered by another equally vocal group - #halimahismypresident, which urged Singaporeans to rally round their next president.

Social service professional Saleemah Ismail, 48, wrote: "I am jumping for joy that we will be having a true champion of the people as our president."

What is perhaps pertinent in the online storm is that several who wanted a contest were quick to add that they have nothing against 63-year-old Madam Halimah, who they say was an able and popular politician.

What they found hard to stomach was the walkover. Undergraduate Kyle Malinda-White, a 25-year-old Malay, said: "I am not rejecting Madam Halimah - she is a strong woman who has what it takes to win votes. She has been elected legally."

He added: "I am questioning the decision to raise the barrier of entry for private-sector candidates... Now, we have an elected president whose mandate is in serious question, not because of her but because of the process."

The two contenders deemed ineligible to contest the election were company chairman Farid Khan, 61, and chief executive Salleh Marican, 67.

Both did not meet the key requirement of helming a company with $500 million in shareholder equity in the most recent three years.

Law graduate Rio Hoe, 25, who runs the sociopolitical blog Consensus SG, said Singaporeans were "robbed of the dignity" of voting for their first Malay elected president, and also the first female one "in the history of our country, which would have been a momentous occasion for minority rights and women's rights". He added: "What would have been a democratic milestone is now besmirched with the ugly stain of an uncontested election."

His post was shared by dozens, including local blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as mrbrown.

Workers' Party politician Yee Jenn Jong, a former Non-Constituency MP, held similar views. Like several netizens, he said the online storm was not the best start to her presidency.

He wrote in a blog post that it was unfortunate she would not be going through an election.

"In an already very controversial election reserved only for Malays, it would have restored some of the lost moral authority by her winning against credible opponents through popular votes," said Mr Yee.

Several also pointed out that Singaporeans unhappy with the outcome had many opportunities to speak up during the 20-month-long review of the elected presidency.

They could have made submissions to the Constitutional Commission, or disagreed openly after parliamentary debates or at public forums, they said.

Some, like former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng, focused on those who failed to step forward to contest the election.

His Facebook post read: "What I am disappointed in is that there were clearly other candidates who could automatically qualify but didn't put themselves forward."

He did not name anyone, but said they included Malays who were former ministers or corporate bigwigs."Why didn't they step up? The presidency is the highest office in the land in protocol, and when duty calls, one would have thought that good men and women will answer," said Mr Cheng.

Nomination Day: A historic event under the midday sun
No grandiose proclamations, just a simple and heartfelt speech from Halimah
By Wong Kim Hoh, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 14 Sep 2017

The clock on the wall read 10.30am. A middle-aged Chinese man in a white T-shirt, baggy olive shorts and well-worn sandals sat outside Soon Ho Eating House in Block 803, King George's Avenue, nursing a mug of black coffee.

On occasion, he would tear his eyes away from his smartphone and gaze lazily across the road at the security personnel and small crowd outside the People's Association Headquarters.

Asked if he planned to join them to await the arrival of Madam Halimah Yacob and the historic announcement of her presidency, the man - who declined to give his name - snorted.

"No need to vote, so no need to be there also what!" he said.

His indifference was in stark contrast to Mr Koh Heong Hwee, 70, who brought a box filled with cardboard plaques bearing Madam Halimah's image, put together by some friends from Buona Vista Community Club.

The irrepressibly friendly former cabby pointed to his wife Goh Lian Choo, 76, who was carrying a box of orange gerberas.

"She had a valve replacement, I had a bypass. Both of us have had heart surgery, so our hearts are very open," he joked with a loud guffaw. "We accept Madam Halimah and are very happy to have her as our first female president."

Madam Latipah Mohd Noor, 57, who works in patient care at the National Heart Centre, couldn't agree more. A volunteer at Taman Jurong, she worked with Madam Halimah when the latter was an MP for Jurong GRC.

"Perempuan boleh," she said, using the Malay phrase which means "women are capable".

"It is time we have a female president. Women do so many things, they run the household, they raise kids, they work. Madam Halimah has proven herself," said the chatty woman who drove to the event with 13 of her friends, including Madam Noriah Saniman, 72, and Madam Fatimah Mimi, 59, both of whom wore bright orange tudungs. Orange, representing unity, was the colour chosen for Madam Halimah's campaign.

Madam Latipah is aware of the unhappiness in some quarters that this presidential election was reserved for Malays, and that there was no contest. "It is not her fault. The Malay community is not big and not many people stepped forward," she said with a shrug.

Perhaps it was the searing 33 deg C heat. Or the divisiveness of the contest and the fact that it was a walkover. But yesterday's historic event was a lot less boisterous than campaign and victory rallies at general elections.

Former marketing executive Yap Weng Seng, 57, said he would have attended the event if Madam Halimah had won in a contest. "She is very well regarded and she would have stood a good chance of winning. I just don't like the whole idea of a reserved election."

The around 700 people who turned up included members of some 45 unions who went to show their support for the former deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

The day began for Madam Halimah at her Yishun flat, where she met relatives and supporters before going to the NTUC Centre in a black sedan. From there, she and key members of her campaign team made their way to the nomination centre, where she submitted her papers.

When she emerged on stage at noon, the crowd - rendered listless by the sweltering heat - suddenly found new vigour. They rushed across the field to hear her speak, unfurling banners and umbrellas, brandishing fans - both old-fashioned and battery-operated - as well as whistles.

Singapore's second Malay president eschewed grandiose proclamations, opting instead to deliver a simple but heartfelt speech. She was weighed down by an avalanche of garlands when she walked into the crowd after her speech.

Former oil refinery technician Ho Kin Tong, 75, was glad he attended the event. "It really doesn't matter if the president is Chinese or Malay, man or woman, as long as he or she is a good president. Just give Madam Halimah time, I am sure she will prove herself."

Halimah Yacob only one to get eligibility certificate, set to be Singapore's next President
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob is set to be Singapore's eighth president and its first woman head of state this week, in the country's first presidential election reserved for candidates from the Malay community.

The 63-year-old former Speaker of Parliament was the only presidential hopeful declared eligible to contest by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) yesterday.

"Whether there is an election or not, my passion and commitment to serve the people of Singapore remain the same," she told reporters.

She collected her certificate of eligibility at the Elections Department in the afternoon, shortly after witnessing the election of her successor as Speaker in Parliament.

The PEC's decision all but concludes a process that began when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mooted a review of the elected presidency early last year.

A Constitutional Commission recommended changes to guarantee minority representation in the highest office in the land as well as to tighten eligibility criteria in keeping with the economy's growth.

Having held a key public office - the post of Speaker of Parliament - since 2013, Madam Halimah was the only one of three Malay hopefuls automatically eligible to run.

All three were issued certificates by the Community Committee confirming that they belong to the Malay community.

But the PEC informed the other two - marine services firm chairman Farid Khan, 61, and property company chief executive Salleh Marican, 67 - that they did not qualify to contest. Neither had helmed a company with $500 million in shareholder equity for the most recent three years, a key threshold required for candidates relying on their private-sector experience.

Mr Salleh showed his letter from the PEC to The Straits Times. In rejecting his application, the six-member panel said it was unable to satisfy itself that he had "the experience and ability" comparable to a chief executive of a company of that size and complexity.

The PEC noted the shareholders' equity of Mr Salleh's company, Second Chance, averaged about $258 million, a sum "considerably below the minimum" required under the Constitution.

Mr Farid declined to disclose his company's financials, but its value is believed to be much lower. He declined to show his letter from the PEC to the media.

Both said they were disappointed not to be given the go-ahead - but thanked their families and supporters for their support over the past few months, and said they would continue to serve Singaporeans.

Under the law, the decision of the PEC - chaired by Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo - is final and not subject to appeal or review in any court.

The uncontested election drew mixed reactions from observers, who welcomed Madam Halimah making history as the country's first woman president and the first Malay head of state in 47 years.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director Gillian Koh said: "Madam Halimah is a double minority - not only is she a Malay-Muslim individual, but a female."

But Dr Koh felt "the statement of our acceptance of diversity would have been all the more powerful if there had been an open contest".

However, political science professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore questioned the value of having a contest for a contest's sake: "Being elected through a walkover does not undermine or delegitimise the winner."

Tomorrow, Madam Halimah will turn up with her proposer, seconder and at least four assentors at the People's Association HQ in King George's Avenue to file her nomination papers.

If all is in order, she will be declared president-elect shortly after nominations close at noon. She will then take her oath of office on Thursday, which will mark the start of her six-year term.

Halimah vows to do her best for Singapore
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Madam Halimah Yacob, set to become Singapore's next president after she was declared the only eligible candidate, yesterday assured Singaporeans that being elected in a walkover will not lessen her commitment to serving them.

"I promise to do the best that I can to serve the people of Singapore, and that doesn't change whether there is an election or no election," she told reporters after collecting her certificate of eligibility from the Elections Department. "My passion and commitment to serve the people of Singapore remain the same."

Since announcing her presidential bid last month, the 63-year-old has been dogged by questions on her perceived legitimacy in the event of a walkover, particularly as only candidates from the Malay community can stand in this year's presidential election.

The reserved election for the presidency, following changes to the Constitution last year to ensure the highest office in the land is reflective of Singapore's multiracial society, continues to spark controversy.

Asked how she plans to unite the nation, Madam Halimah said: "I would like to encourage Singaporeans to work together with me so that we can work together for a united Singapore and a much stronger Singapore. This is a journey that we must take together."

She was flanked by six key supporters, including National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew, and was wearing an orange tudung - a colour she has been wearing in recent weeks, chosen for her campaign as it represents unity.

Asked what the reserved election means for the Malay community, Madam Halimah said the reasons have been debated extensively, adding: "The process may be a reserved election, but the president is for everyone, for all communities - regardless of race and religion."

The former Speaker, who resigned to stand for president, has long been seen as the front runner in the race, being the only hopeful to automatically qualify as she has spent at least three years in a key public office.

Tomorrow, Madam Halimah will have to turn up with a proposer, seconder and at least four assentors at the People's Association headquarters to file her nomination papers between 11am and noon.

Shortly after nominations close, she will be declared president- elect, and will take her oath of office the following day.

"I will now focus on preparing for the nomination on the 13th, and that will require some work as well," she said, adding that she would hold a press conference after submitting her nomination papers.

"I have met many Singaporeans in the past couple of weeks, and I feel grateful for the support and encouragement," she added.




Observers happy for Halimah Yacob, but disappointed at no-contest for first reserved presidential election
Some observers say there may be legitimacy issues, but others feel the bar should not be lowered
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Singapore's first reserved presidential election all but ended before even getting off the ground, following yesterday's announcement that only Madam Halimah Yacob qualifies to run for office.

Although the 63-year-old is still required to submit her papers on Nomination Day tomorrow, the presidential bids of her potential rivals - Mr Salleh Marican and Mr Farid Khan - have ended. Both men failed as their applications for the certificate of eligibility did not pass muster.

Observers and MPs interviewed said the denouement was an expected, if anticlimactic, end to months of public consultations and forums as well as parliamentary debates about the review of the elected presidency.

From the start, Madam Halimah's name was floated as a possible candidate and, soon, she became the front runner. But they also had mixed feelings about the outcome, acknowledging disappointment at the likely walkover while welcoming the Presidential Elections Committee's decision not to lower the bar.

Many Singaporeans had hoped for the chance to choose their president, said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad. "On the one hand, I am very happy for Madam Halimah, as she would make a very good president. But many Singaporeans were hoping for a contest because they felt they had a democratic right to vote."

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat noted that electoral contests give winners an element of legitimacy and voters the chance to know candidates better through their campaigns.

"A section of Singapore will be upset by the news. But there are certain standards to meet and it is good to disqualify those who did not meet them," he said.

Neither Mr Farid nor Mr Salleh qualified under the newly amended stricter criteria. Their companies fell far short of the $500 million shareholder equity threshold spelt out in the Constitution.

Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) deputy director Gillian Koh said: "If the Presidential Elections Committee were to award individuals who ran companies that are clearly below that explicit $500 million mark, they would have to explain in detail how their experience made up for the shortfall."

This decision must be viewed as credible and able to be upheld, she said, adding: "The credibility and legitimacy of the system are at stake."

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said: "It would have been problematic for our ideals of meritocracy if the bar had to be lowered to accommodate a minority community, so that there could be a contest."

With no contest in sight, some will question Madam Halimah's legitimacy as president, particularly those who believe others could have qualified in a less restrictive race.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said: "Madam Halimah, when elected, will have to bear the burden of doubts about her legitimacy. It is unfair, but these perceptions are there.''

Still, she did qualify according to the system, and this is what really matters, Dr Mathews said.

Experts said Madam Halimah can take a leaf from the late president S R Nathan's book. "She should continue her efforts to touch people's hearts and minds. She can be like Mr Nathan, who won in walkovers but is remembered as the people's president," said Dr Norshahril.

Mr Nathan was elected uncontested in 1999 and 2005.

Observers like Professor Tan said the outcome should prompt more eligible people from all races to step forward and run, whether in an open or reserved election.

"I hope this will be the first and last reserved election. We can be the beacon of multiracialism especially without the need for a reserved election," he added.

This won't stop me from serving people: Farid Khan
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Presidential hopeful Farid Khan is disappointed that he did not qualify to run for president, but he has also accepted the decision.

The 61-year-old was told yesterday afternoon that the Community Committee has accepted that he belongs to the Malay community, but the Presidential Elections Committee did not find him eligible to run.

"I wish to thank Singaporeans, my family and friends for their overwhelming support since I first announced my decision to contest," Mr Farid said in a statement shortly after the Elections Department (ELD) announced its decision at 5pm yesterday.

"Unfortunately, it is not meant to be," he added.

Despite the setback, Mr Farid said that his bid for the presidency, announced in July, was nevertheless "a meaningful journey and a wonderful experience".

He added: "Although I am disappointed by the committee's decision, it will not stop me from continuing to serve the people. As before, I will continue to serve to the best of my abilities."

Mr Farid's campaign manager Borhan Saini declined to disclose why Mr Farid did not qualify.

The ELD said it had informed presidential hopefuls why they did not qualify, and it was up to them whether they wanted to disclose the reasons publicly. The Straits Times understands that Mr Farid did not meet the requirement that candidates from the private sector must have been the top executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity in the past three years.

Mr Farid is the chairman of marine sector services company Bourbon Offshore Asia, a subsidiary of French multinational marine company Bourbon.

Salleh Marican eyes second chance at next polls
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 12 Sep 2017

Over the years, Mr Salleh Marican grew his small tailor shop to a $250 million property and investment holdings firm and made a name for himself as a self-made businessman.

But yesterday, the 67-year-old fell short in his bid to run for the presidency, as the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) found he was ineligible to stand for election to the highest office in the land as he did not meet the criteria required for a candidate from the private sector.

The PEC laid out its reasons for rejecting Mr Salleh in a letter to him yesterday.

The letter, which was shown to The Straits Times by Mr Salleh, said that while Second Chance Properties was profitable during his tenure as its chief executive from 1999 to the present day, its shareholder equity - which averaged $258 million in the last three financial years - was considerably lower than the threshold required.

Hopefuls from the private sector are required to have run a company with at least $500 million in shareholders' equity for the most recent three years.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday evening at his home near Upper East Coast Road, Mr Salleh said he was sad and "very disappointed".

"The reason is very vague, very general, they find that I cannot, I don't have the ability to manage a $500 million company. This is very subjective," he said.

"In business, it is (also about) luck, if let's say tomorrow... I have $500 million, maybe if property price goes up, I am actually the same person."

He offered PEC testimonials from people who have dealt with him in business and who believed he had what it takes to manage a $500 million company.

"I explained that from $8,000 of capital, from a small tailor shop, I have grown the business to $250 million, and along the way I have learnt much, I have gone through failures and setbacks and still all this somehow did not convince them," said Mr Salleh.

The PEC's decision is final and is not open to an appeal.

Mr Salleh said he would continue to run his business and contribute to society in other ways.

And while he wished Madam Halimah Yacob well, he also said this was not the end of the road for his presidential ambitions.

"I hope that I can grow this company in the next six years, and if I can meet the $500 million criterion six years later, I will try again, in an open election. I believe in second chances. I believe I will give myself a second chance," he said.

Halimah Yacob's neighbours welcome president from HDB heartland
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2017

Mr Lee Swee Seng has run his HDB provision shop in Yishun Avenue 4 for 17 years, and in all that time, Madam Halimah Yacob and her family have been his loyal customers.

Mr Lee, 53, sees her family members almost every day - his iEcon minimart is the closest shop for them to pick up groceries such as bread and beverages.

But with his neighbour set to be Singapore's next president, Mr Lee, like many of Madam Halimah's neighbours, is feeling a mix of emotions. "This is very special because she will be Singapore's first woman president, and we are very proud that someone like her who lives in an HDB flat in Yishun could become president," he told The Straits Times yesterday in Mandarin.

Madam Halimah's election to the highest office in the land would most probably see her move out to a more easily secured residence.

The former Speaker of Parliament had said publicly that should she be elected, she intended to continue living in her HDB home.

She, however, had also acknowledged that she might have to move owing to the challenges of keeping a president safe and secure in a public housing estate.

For her neighbours, this would mean missing a friendly face in the lift, and warm chats in the void deck. Newspaper vendor G. Dabamani, 54, said Madam Halimah would often ask how she was doing and if she was benefiting from government policies like Workfare.

"We are sad because we might not be able to see or talk to her in the lifts anymore. If she stays here, I would be so proud - my president lives in the same block as me!" said Madam Dabamani.

Safety officer Henry Lim, 57, will miss seeing someone he knows as a hardworking champion of the people who has no airs.

"She is very friendly, humble and down to earth. She doesn't behave like a VIP," said Mr Lim, who has lived in the estate for over 20 years.

The 12-storey HDB block built in 1987 has been home to Madam Halimah, 63, and her family for more than two decades. She has lived there throughout her 16-year political career - she became an MP in 2001, was appointed Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sport in 2011, and elected Speaker of Parliament in 2013.

Her home of two adjacent HDB flats, bought on the resale market, is nestled in a cluster of HDB blocks and tucked away in a neighbourhood that looks like any other. The corridors are cluttered with the everyday items of HDB life - bicycles, potted plants and school shoes.

Apart from CCTV cameras perched on the walls near her unit, there is nothing to suggest the block houses an important leader who will be Singapore's head of state.

Residents say Madam Halimah has always been low-key, and security in the area is discreet.

But this might change when Madam Halimah becomes president-elect today. Last evening, policemen in plain clothes were seen stationed at the foot of her block and patrolling the area.

Mr Lee said: " I would understand if she doesn't live here after becoming president... but what is special about her is whether she was an MP, Minister of State or Speaker, she was living here, among us."

Halimah: 'Heartland President'
The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2017

More than 1,000 unionists, former constituents and members of the public will turn up at the People's Association (PA) Headquarters in King George's Avenue this morning to support Madam Halimah Yacob as she files her nomination papers for the presidential election.

These include residents from her former wards of Bukit Batok East and Marsiling, where she was MP for the past 16 years.

The 63-year-old will be elected unopposed as she was the only contender declared eligible to run by the Presidential Elections Committee on Monday, having been Speaker of Parliament since 2013.

She and her team members will gather at NTUC Centre this morning before heading to the PA Headquarters, the designated nomination centre, to submit her papers.

Shortly after noon, returning officer Ng Wai Choong will declare her the president-elect.

Madam Halimah will then address supporters, many of whom will be in orange - a colour that represents unity.

In a handwritten note posted on her Facebook page last night, she thanked Singaporeans for their strong show of support for her. She added she was deeply touched by the words of encouragement and good wishes from many people.

"I will serve Singapore and Singaporeans with great passion and commitment. I invite you to join me in making Singapore a great place by Doing Good, Doing Together," she said, referring to her campaign slogan.

Yesterday, residents in the Yishun neighbourhood where she has lived for over two decades - throughout her 16-year political career - seemed excited at the prospect of having someone from the HDB heartland representing them in the Istana, although some wondered if they might see less of her, given her new role.


Halimah Yacob sworn-in as Singapore's 8th President

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