Sin­ga­pore­ans ex­press dis­sat­is­fac­tion on so­cial me­dia

New Straits Times - - World -


THE city-state got its first fe­male pres­i­dent yes­ter­day, but the mile­stone was over­shad­owed by crit­i­cism that her se­lec­tion was un­demo­cratic af­ter she was handed the job with­out a vote.

Hal­imah Ya­cob, a for­mer speaker of Par­lia­ment from the Malay mi­nor­ity, did not have to face an elec­tion for the largely cer­e­mo­nial post af­ter au­thor­i­ties de­cided her ri­vals did not meet el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria.

It was not the first time in the af­flu­ent city-state, which is tightly con­trolled and has been ruled by the same party for decades, that the govern­ment has dis­qual­i­fied pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, mak­ing an elec­tion un­nec­es­sary.

But there was al­ready un­ease about the process as it was the first time that the pres­i­dency had been re­served for a par­tic­u­lar race, in this case Malays.

The de­ci­sion to hand her the job with­out an elec­tion added to the anger.

So­cial me­dia was abuzz with crit­i­cism as Hal­imah, a be­spec­ta­cled 63-year-old who wears a head­scarf, was for­mally an­nounced as pres­i­dent-elect, with Face­book user Pat Eng writ­ing: “Elected with­out an elec­tion. What a joke.”

“I will call her Pres­i­dent Se­lect from now on,” said Joel Kong on the net­work­ing site, while some posts were marked with the hash­tag #NotMyPres­i­dent, echo­ing the mes­sage used by up­set Amer­i­cans af­ter the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Hal­imah was a mem­ber of par­lia­ment for the rul­ing Peo­ple’s Ac­tion Party for nearly two decades be­fore re­sign­ing to con­test the pres­i­dency.

She ad­dressed the con­cerns about the se­lec­tion process af­ter be­ing named pres­i­dent-elect.

“I’m a pres­i­dent for ev­ery­one. Al­though there’s no elec­tion, my com­mit­ment to serve you re­mains the same,” she said.

Hal­imah added she would “start work­ing im­me­di­ately” to bring the coun­try to­gether.

She also in­sisted her sta­tus as the repub­lic’s first fe­male pres­i­dent was “not just to­kenism”, in a speech to a cheer­ing crowd while wear­ing or­ange, a colour sup­posed to sym­bol­ise unity.

“Ev­ery woman can aspire to the high­est of­fice in the land when you have the courage, de­ter­mi­na­tion and will to work hard,” she said.

Au­thor­i­ties de­cided to al­low only can­di­dates from the Malay com­mu­nity to put them­selves for­ward for the pres­i­dency to foster har­mony in the city-state of 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple, which is dom­i­nated by eth­nic Chi­nese.

But the de­ci­sion had caused con­cern, in­clud­ing among Malays, as it was seen as pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion that ran counter to the city-state’s mer­i­to­cratic prin­ci­ples.

Five peo­ple had put their names for­ward for the pres­i­dency and the govern­ment had sched­uled an elec­tion for Sept 23. Two were quickly elim­i­nated as they were not Malay.

The two oth­ers, Malay busi­ness­men Mo­hamed Salleh Mar­i­can and Farid Khan Kaim Khan, were dis­qual­i­fied as their com­pa­nies were smaller than re­quired by strict new el­i­gi­bil­ity rules in­tro­duced last year.

Hal­imah au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fied as she has held pub­lic of­fice.

Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong was con­fi­dent that Hal­imah would ful­fil her role as the repub­lic’s eighth pres­i­dent with dis­tinc­tion.

“The pres­i­dent is the apex of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and sym­bol of our multi-racial, multi-re­li­gious na­tion,” he said in his lat­est Face­book post­ing.

Hal­imah is sched­uled to be sworn in at the Is­tana, the of­fi­cial res­i­dence and of­fice of the pres­i­dent of Sin­ga­pore.

“Hal­imah has been a union­ist, com­mu­nity leader, MP, min­is­ter of state and speaker. She will bring to the pres­i­dency her long ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with Sin­ga­pore­ans from all walks of life, and cham­pi­oning work­ers and dis­ad­van­taged groups,” wrote Lee.

He also thanked Salleh and Farid Khan for of­fer­ing them­selves as can­di­dates.

“It could not have been an easy de­ci­sion for them and their fam­i­lies, know­ing the at­ten­tion and scru­tiny this would at­tract. 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. I thank them also for ac­cept­ing the Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tions Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sions. This is the way to make our demo­cratic pro­cesses work prop­erly and in the in­ter­est of Sin­ga­pore­ans,” said Lee.

“Hal­imah will be sworn in to­mor­row (to­day). I hope all of us will sup­port her as our next pres­i­dent. I look for­ward to work­ing with her to serve Sin­ga­pore­ans and the na­tion,” said Lee. Agen­cies

Lee Hsien Loong

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