Hal­imah’s rise is S’pore’s story


Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong ad­dresses crowd at Hal­imah Ya­cob’s in­au­gu­ra­tion

Pres­i­dent Hal­imah Ya­cob’s rise to the high­est of­fice of the land reaf­firms found­ing fa­ther Lee Kuan Yew’s vow in the very early hours of in­de­pen­dence on Aug 9, 1965, that Sin­ga­pore “would not be a Malay na­tion, a Chi­nese na­tion nor an In­dian na­tion”, Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong said yes­ter­day.

When the first prime min­is­ter made this pledge, the na­tion had a Malay head of state: Mr Yu­sof Ishak, who died in his third term in 1970, at the age of 60.

Madam Hal­imah is Sin­ga­pore’s first Malay pres­i­dent af­ter 47 years and its first fe­male head of state.

Ad­dress­ing the 200 guests at the Is­tana dur­ing her in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony, Mr Lee said: “Pres­i­dent Yu­sof Ishak sym­bol­ised, vis­i­bly, that though we had been forced out of Malaysia pri­mar­ily be­cause we were a Chi­nese-ma­jor­ity city, in­de­pen­dent Sin­ga­pore would never in turn sup­press its own non-Chi­nese mi­nori­ties. We chose the no­bler dream: A mul­tira­cial, multi-re­li­gious Sin­ga­pore.

“Madam Pres­i­dent, half a cen­tury later, you sym­bol­ise, vis­i­bly, that Sin­ga­pore will per­se­vere with this dream,” he said, adding this has be­come more ur­gent in light of re­gional and global trends.

“In an age when eth­nic na­tion­al­ism is ris­ing, ex­trem­ist ter­ror­ism sows dis­trust and fear, and ex­clu­sivist ide­olo­gies deepen com­mu­nal and re­li­gious fault lines, here in Sin­ga­pore, we will re­sist this tide.

“Here, the ma­jor­ity will make ex­tra ef­forts to en­sure that mi­nori­ties en­joy equal rights. That is some­thing spe­cial, pre­cious and frag­ile.”

Now, the na­tion will reg­u­larly have a sym­bol “who can look like pres­i­dent Ben­jamin Sheares, a Eurasian; pres­i­dent S R Nathan, an In­dian; pres­i­dent Tony Tan, a Chi­nese; and Pres­i­dent Hal­imah Ya­cob, a Malay and a woman”.

This was the “com­pelling rea­son” the Gov­ern­ment amended the Con­sti­tu­tion to re­serve the pres­i­dency for a com­mu­nity that has not held the post for five terms, he added.

Mr Lee also said Madam Hal­imah’s life story — from “hard­ship and de­pri­va­tion” to suc­cess and giv­ing back to so­ci­ety — re­flects the Sin­ga­pore story.

“Your life story sym­bol­ises the sort of so­ci­ety that we as­pire to be, and re­minds us that the Sin­ga­pore story is one of hope and op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

“In Sin­ga­pore, no mat­ter where we be­gin in life, if we work hard, we will have am­ple chances to do well; and when we make good, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity in turn to help oth­ers around us.”

Mr Lee said he had no doubt Madam Hal­imah will unify Sin­ga­pore­ans, like Mr Yu­sof did.

“You, too, will strengthen our sense of na­tion­hood. You, too, will be our pres­i­dent,” he said.



Madam Hal­imah Ya­cob’s in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony had 200 guests.

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