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Halimah mulling over presidency bid

July 16, 2017 9:00 PM
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Halimah mulling over presidency bid

"Madam Speaker" Halimah Yacob indicated yesterday that she will consider becoming Singapore's first "Madam President".

After months of deflecting questions from the media and Singaporeans, she admitted that she has been thinking of running for the highest office in the land.

Widely tipped to be a frontrunner in the reserved election to be held in September, Madam Halimah, 62, told reporters on the sidelines of an event at her Marsiling ward that she was "honoured and humbled" to be considered.

She said: "The elected presidency is a very heavy responsibility and an important institution in Singapore, so it's not something that one should take lightly... so it needs a bit of time to think."

The mother of five adult children said she has discussed the presidency with her family and colleagues.

"It's not a question that you can just make a decision alone," she added.

Madam Halimah's expression of interest comes after Bourbon Offshore Asia chairman Farid Khan Kaim Khan, 62, announced his bid last Tuesday. Second Chance Properties CEO Mohamed Salleh Marican, 67, threw his hat into the ring last month.

Madam Halimah is the only candidate so far who fulfils all the qualifications.

The other two, who are from the private sector, do not meet the criterion of running a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity.

Madam Halimah meets the public sector service requirement of holding office for a period of three or more years as Speaker of Parliament.

The co-anchor of the four-member Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, will have to vacate her seat if she runs for president.

The Constitution does not allow a presidential candidate to belong to a political party on the date of nomination for election.

In 1993, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong resigned from the People's Action Party, the Cabinet and the National Trade Unions Congress to eventually become Singapore's first popularly elected president. He was then the deputy prime minister and MP for Toa Payoh.

During the presidential election debate in February, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing told Parliament that a by-election would not be called if a minority candidate left a GRC.

The loss of a minority MP will leave 24 minority MPs out of 89 - more than the minority proportion in Singapore, he said in a reply to a question by Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh.

When The New Paper spoke to 10 residents of Madam Halimah's ward yesterday, all of them, except a 24-year-old woman who works in advertising, knew her as their MP and supported her bid.

They did not think their lives would be affected by Madam Halimah stepping down as MP.

Political watchers think that her popularity and public sector track record would enhance her chances of winning.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin said that stepping down from her current roles will be a "trade-off", but Singaporeans would largely view it positively as the presidency is a much higher calling with greater responsibility.

The ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute fellow does not think her close link to the Government will hurt her chances.

"She is known to speak her mind and think independently as an MP, and has shown that she can rise above partisan politics as Speaker of Parliament," he added.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser, however, thinks that her close links to the ruling party, and some negative vibes about the reserved election and the question of who is the first elected president, may work against her.

Nonetheless, he said, most people by now would not be surprised by Madam Halimah's announcement.

One of Madam Halimah's constituents, Madam Anchela Ramasamy, 59, a cleaner, said: "I am sad but also proud of her. It's too bad she can only be either my MP or the president."


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