‘As Pres­i­dent, I will serve ev­ery­one’

The New Paper - - FRONT PAGE - HARIZ BAHARUDIN

Sworn in as Sin­ga­pore’s eighth pres­i­dent, Madam Hal­imah Ya­cob calls on the peo­ple to join her to cre­ate a brighter fu­ture “We have made great progress build­ing a mul­tira­cial so­ci­ety over the years, but we also know that this en­deav­our is a con­stant work in progress.” — Pres­i­dent Hal­imah Ya­cob

Af­ter she was sworn in as Sin­ga­pore’s eighth pres­i­dent yes­ter­day, Madam Hal­imah Ya­cob called on Sin­ga­pore­ans to work to­gether to­wards a so­ci­ety where a re­served elec­tion would no longer be nec­es­sary.

Ad­dress­ing the pal­pa­ble dis­quiet over her walkover in the first re­served elec­tion, Madam Hal­imah, 63, said in her maiden speech: “I know that some Sin­ga­pore­ans would pre­fer to achieve this with­out need­ing re­served elec­tions.

“I re­spect their views. Like them, I look for­ward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the pro­vi­sion to have re­served elec­tions, and Sin­ga­pore­ans nat­u­rally and reg­u­larly elect cit­i­zens of all races as pres­i­dents.

“To­day, I want to as­sure all Sin­ga­pore­ans that as your pres­i­dent, I will serve ev­ery one of you, re­gard­less of race, lan- guage or re­li­gion.”

Madam Hal­imah made his­tory at the Is­tana state room yes­ter­day when she was in­au­gu­rated as Sin­ga­pore’s first Malay pres­i­dent af­ter 47 years, and its first fe­male head of state.

The for­mer Speaker of Par­lia­ment was the only can­di­date to qual­ify to stand in this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion af­ter the Con­sti­tu­tion was amended to re­serve it for Malays.

The move drew mixed re­ac­tions from Sin­ga­pore­ans, with some com­plain­ing that it went against mer­i­toc­racy while oth­ers felt that it un­der­scored the ethos of mul­tira­cial­ism.

Madam Hal­imah said hav­ing pres­i­dents who reg­u­larly come from ev­ery eth­nic group was a wel­come move as it pro­tected the coun­try’s mul­tira­cial iden­tity.

Sin­ga­pore, she said, needs “guide­posts” to con­tinue do­ing so.

“We have made great pro­cus­to­dial gress build­ing a mul­tira­cial so­ci­ety over the years, but we also know that this en­deav­our is a con­stant work in progress,” she said.

Madam Hal­imah also said she val­ued mer­i­toc­racy strongly be­cause “with­out it, I would not be here to­day”.

Re­count­ing her hum­ble be­gin­nings grow­ing up in a sin­gle­par­ent fam­ily that ex­pe­ri­enced poverty, she said Sin­ga­pore’s mer­i­to­cratic sys­tem was what en­abled her to en­ter pub­lic ser­vice.

Recog­nis­ing that other Sin­ga­pore­ans had sto­ries sim­i­lar to hers, she pledged to con­tinue build­ing on the work of her pre­de­ces­sors S R Nathan and Tony Tan Keng Yam in the Pres­i­dent’s Chal­lenge to help the un­der­priv­i­leged.

“We firmly be­lieve that any­one who works hard should be able to re­alise his or her full po­ten­tial, and make valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety,” she said.

As pres­i­dent, Madam Hal­imah also holds the sec­ond key to Sin­ga­pore’s re­serves and sig­nif­i­cant ap­point­ments in the pub­lic ser­vice.

She said: “In ex­er­cis­ing my pow­ers, I will use my in­de­pen­dent judg­ment, con­sult­ing the Coun­cil of Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vis­ers and work­ing closely with the Prime Min­is­ter and the Gov­ern­ment.”

She noted that the na­tional re­serves “must not be used ex­cept for very good rea­son” and the pub­lic ser­vice must main­tain its high qual­ity and stand­ing.

Pledg­ing to con­tinue her ser­vice to Sin­ga­pore, she called on the peo­ple to join her.

“We must mea­sure our suc­cess not just by how well we do for our­selves, but by whether we en­able the next gen­er­a­tion to do even bet­ter.

“Let us com­mit our­selves to this task, and to­gether cre­ate a brighter fu­ture for all Sin­ga­pore­ans,” she said.

harizbah@sph.com.sg

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