Elec­tion reaf­firms na­tion’s ‘re­gard­less of race, lan­guage or re­li­gion’ pledge: PM

Today - - TODAY - siau Ming En siaumin­gen@me­di­a­corp.com.sg

President Hal­imah Ya­cob’s as­cent to the high­est of­fice in the land sym­bol­ises Sin­ga­pore’s per­se­ver­ance to­wards a dream first es­poused by found­ing Prime Min­is­ter Lee Kuan Yew more than five decades ago: A mul­tira­cial and multi-re­li­gious Sin­ga­pore.

This was a point made by Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong yes­ter­day at Mdm Hal­imah’s swear­ing-in cer­e­mony, as he re­vealed how the Gov­ern­ment had an eye on ex­ter­nal de­vel­op­ments when it de­cided to make Con­sti­tu­tional changes to the Elected Pres­i­dency scheme.

The Repub­lic’s stead­fast­ness to its found­ing prin­ci­ples has

be­come all the more ur­gent given the trends in the re­gion and the rest of the world. “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,” PM Lee said. “Here, the ma­jor­ity will make ex­tra ef­forts to en­sure that mi­nori­ties en­joy equal rights. That is some­thing spe­cial, pre­cious and frag­ile.”

Held at the Is­tana, the cer­e­mony in the State Room was at­tended by Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, top civil ser­vants and for­eign dig­ni­taries among oth­ers. Af­ter the na­tional an­them was played, Mdm Hal­imah, 63, took the oath and was sworn in as the coun­try’s first Malay President in 47 years.

In his speech, which was de­liv­ered be­fore Mdm Hal­imah gave her ad­dress, PM Lee noted that the need to en­sure mi­nor­ity have equal rights drives the Gov­ern­ment to make sure that Par­lia­ment al­ways has rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all eth­nic groups.

“In­deed, that was the com­pelling rea­son the Gov­ern­ment amended the Con­sti­tu­tion last year,” he said.

Fol­low­ing changes to the Elected Pres­i­dency scheme which were passed into law last Novem­ber — these in­clude a hia­tus-trig­gered mech­a­nism to en­sure mi­nor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the of­fice of the president — Sin­ga­pore will reg­u­larly have a Head of State, the sym­bol of the na­tion, from dif­fer­ent races, PM Lee said.

He cited past Pres­i­dents Dr Ben­jamin Sheares who was Eurasian, S R Nathan who was In­dian and Mdm Hal­imah’s pre­de­ces­sor Dr Tony Tan who is Chi­nese. With Mdm Hal­imah oc­cu­py­ing the of­fice, Sin­ga­pore now has a President who is Malay and a woman, he added.

Mdm Hal­imah’s swear­ing-in a “sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in our his­tory”, PM Lee pointed to how she is the first Malay to be­come Sin­ga­pore’s President since the coun­try’s first president Yu­sof Ishak, who died in of­fice in 1970. “You are also the first Malay to be elected President since it be­came an elected of­fice in 1991, and the first President elected since the ma­jor con­sti­tu­tional changes last year. You are also our first fe­male President,” he added.

Hark­ing back to the events of Aug 9, 1965, PM Lee said Mdm Hali­press mah’s pres­i­dency reaf­firmed a pledge made by the late Mr Lee in the first hours of the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence: Sin­ga­pore would not be a Malay na­tion, a Chi­nese na­tion or an In­dian na­tion, and ev­ery­body would have his equal place re­gard­less of lan­guage, cul­ture and re­li­gion.

“When Mr Lee made this pledge, we had a Malay Head of State. President Yu­sof 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 supDe­scrib­ing its own non-Chi­nese mi­nori­ties,” said PM Lee. “We chose the no­bler dream: A mul­tira­cial, mul­tire­li­gious Sin­ga­pore.”

The way that Mdm Hal­imah over­came hard­ship and achieved suc­cess, with­out for­get­ting the poverty of her child­hood, “re­flects the Sin­ga­pore story”, said PM Lee, adding that she has gone out of her way to help those in need and en­abled many oth­ers to suc­ceed.

“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 added.

The youngest of five chil­dren, Mdm Hal­imah lost her fa­ther, a watch­man, when she was eight. At age 10, she helped out at her mother’s food stall, spend­ing hours af­ter school wash­ing dishes, clear­ing ta­bles and serv­ing cus­tomers. She went on to study law at the Uni­ver­sity of Sin­ga­pore, and spent more than 30 years as a union­ist be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics in 2001. Her 16-year po­lit­i­cal ca­reer saw her be­com­ing a Min­is­ter of State and sub­se­quently Speaker of Par­lia­ment.

PM Lee said that Mdm Hal­imah brings to the Pres­i­dency “a heart­felt con­cern for your fel­low cit­i­zens, a strong sense of duty, and a ster­ling record of pub­lic ser­vice”.

While her wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence in pub­lic ser­vice has pre­pared her for her new du­ties as President, there is a “sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence” be­tween be­ing President and her pre­vi­ous roles, PM Lee said.

“Hitherto, you have been fight­ing the good fight — in the unions, in the po­lit­i­cal arena, in the gov­ern­ing party. Now as President, you have to be non­par­ti­san and above the po­lit­i­cal fray.”

“As the President, you have to be the uni­fy­ing fig­ure of our na­tion and rep­re­sent all Sin­ga­pore­ans. I am con­fi­dent that you will adapt to this new role, and per­form it with dis­tinc­tion.”

Photo: Chan­nel newsa­sia

President Hal­imah Ya­cob with (front, from left) Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Thar­man Shan­mu­garat­nam, Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Teo Chee Hean and Chief Jus­tice Sun­daresh Menon, as well as Cab­i­net Min­is­ters, at the Is­tana af­ter the swear­ing-in cer­e­mony yes­ter­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.