ANGER OVER NO VOTE FOR PRESIDENCY
Singaporeans express dissatisfaction on social media
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