Sin­ga­pore gets first fe­male pres­i­dent with­out a vote

Business World - - THE WORLD -

SIN­GA­PORE — Sin­ga­pore got its first fe­male pres­i­dent Wed­nes­day, 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 Mus­lim 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 the Malay com­mu­nity. The de­ci­sion to hand her the job with­out an elec­tion added to the anger.

So­cial me­dia was abuzz with crit­i­cism as Ms. 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 J. 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.

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

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

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

Sin­ga­pore’s head of state has lim­ited pow­ers, in­clud­ing ve­to­ing se­nior of­fi­cial ap­point­ments. But an es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure has al­ways held the role and there are rarely ten­sions with the govern­ment.

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, and give more op­por­tu­ni­ties to mi­nori­ties.

Ms. Hal­imah is the first Malay pres­i­dent of Sin­ga­pore for al­most five decades. The last was Yu­sof Ishak, pres­i­dent from 1965 to 1970, the first years of the citys­tate’s in­de­pen­dence.

But the de­ci­sion to limit can­di­dates to one race had caused con­cern, in­clud­ing among Malays, as it was seen as pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion that ran counter to the citys­tate’s tra­di­tional mer­i­to­cratic prin­ci­ples.

Five peo­ple had orig­i­nally put their names for­ward for the pres­i­dency and the govern­ment had sched­uled an elec­tion for Septem­ber 23.

Two were quickly elim­i­nated as they were not Malay. The two oth­ers, Malay busi­ness­men, were dis­qual­i­fied on Mon­day as their com­pa­nies were smaller than re­quired by strict new el­i­gi­bil­ity rules in­tro­duced last year.

Ms. Hal­imah au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fied as she has held pub­lic of­fice. She will be in­au­gu­rated in a cer­e­mony on Thurs­day. —

SIN­GA­PORE’S Pres­i­dent-elect Hal­imah Ya­cob greets sup­port­ers as she leaves the nom­i­na­tion cen­ter in Sin­ga­pore Sept. 13.

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