SINGAPORE — Former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob is set to be Singapore’s first Malay president in 47 years and the first woman to occupy the highest office in the land.
On Monday (Sept 11), the Elections Department (ELD) announced that among those who applied, only one individual was issued both a Certificate of Eligibility and a Malay Community Certificate.
Given that there are no other contenders, there will not be an election. Madam Halimah, 62, will be declared by the Returning Officer, Energy Market Authority chief executive Ng Wai Choong, as the Republic’s eighth President on Nomination Day on Wednesday, if her nomination papers are in order.
Former President Tony Tan’s six-year term expired on Aug 31, and Mr J Y Pillay, the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, has been the Acting President since Sept 1.
Madam Halimah will start her term as President on Thursday if her nomination goes through.
A total of five applications were submitted to contest the Presidential Election, which has been reserved for Malay candidates, after the deadline lapsed on Sept 4. However, two applicants were out of the running automatically, because one declared himself to be Chinese and the other said that he does not consider himself to be a member of any official ethnic community here.
Apart from Madam Halimah, both chairman of marine services provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific Farid Khan, 62, and chief executive of Second Chance Properties Mohamed Salleh Marican, 67, also each received a Malay Community Certificate.
But the two men’s applications for the Certificate of Eligibility were rejected by the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) as they did not meet the qualifying criteria. Madam Halimah was the only presidential hopeful who automatically qualifies for the election, having served as a Speaker of Parliament for more than three years.
The ELD did not name any individual in its statement, or provide reasons for the rejections.
“The PEC and the Elections Department will not, in the first instance, publish the names of the unsuccessful applicants or the reasons given to them,” it said.
“This is to give effect to the recommendation of the Constitutional Commission that unsuccessful applicants should not be disclosed to the public, to reduce the prospect of potential applicants being dissuaded from stepping forward to contest the elections.”
Nevertheless, an unsuccessful applicant is free to publish the reasons given to him or her, the ELD added.
The six-member PEC is chaired by Public Service Commission chairman Eddie Teo.
The other members are Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority chairman Lim Soo Hoon, Presidential Council for Minority Rights (PCMR) member Chan Heng Chee, Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) member Po’ad Shaik Abu Bakar Mattar, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and chairman of DBS Group Holdings and DBS Bank Peter Seah Lim Huat.
Both Mr Marican and Mr Farid said they were disappointed with the PEC’s decision.
Mr Marican shared with the media the letter of rejection — dated Monday — that he received.
In the letter, the PEC said it was satisfied that Mr Marican held the most senior executive office in Second Chance and was “principally responsible” for managing and conducting its business and operations.
However, his firm’s shareholders’ equity, which averaged about S$258 million in the last three financial years, was “considerably below” the requisite minimum of S$500 million.
“The Committee was unable to satisfy itself that (Mr Marican) had the experience and ability that was comparable to the experience and ability of a person who had served as the chief executive of a typical company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity and who satisfied Article 19(4)(a) of the Constitution in relation to such service,” the PEC said.
Mr Farid declined to reveal the PEC’s reason for rejecting his application. Nevertheless, it was previously reported that his firm had shareholders’ equity of US$300 million (S$403 million).
This year’s Presidential Election comes after changes to the Elected Presidency scheme were passed by Parliament last November.
The amendments allow for the election to be reserved for a particular ethnicity which has not had an elected representative for five consecutive terms.
President Yusof Ishak was Singapore’s first President and the only Malay to have held the office till he died in 1970.
Last Friday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing said at an Institute of Policy Studies forum last Friday that, while he could understand Singaporeans’ desire to have a contest, the eligibility criteria for any group should not be relaxed to allow for that.
“I don’t think Singaporeans would like to see us having different rules for different races because that would have shifted the balance too much (towards) multiracialism, without balancing the considerations for meritocracy,” he added.
Speaking to the media outside the ELD at Prinsep Link on Monday, where she collected her certificates, Madam Halimah said she was grateful for the support that she has received from Singaporeans.
She said she will be focusing on preparations for the nomination proceedings and will hold a press conference after that.
On whether she was concerned about public reaction to a walkover victory, she said: “I can only say that I promise I’ll do my best, (to) care for and serve the people — and that doesn’t change whether there’s an election or no election.”
She added: “My passion to serve the people of Singapore remains the same. I remain fully committed to serving Singaporeans and Singapore.”
On how she plans to unite the nation given the divided views over the reserved election, she reiterated that one of the main functions of a President is to “act as a unifying force”.
As the only person qualified to run for President, Madam Halimah will need to submit her nomination papers between 11am and noon tomorrow at the nomination centre at the People’s Association along King George’s Avenue.
Her nomination paper and relevant certificates must be delivered in duplicate to Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong.
When filing her nomination papers, she must be accompanied by her proposer, seconder and at least four, but not more than eight, assentors.
Objections, which must be made in writing, may be raised between 11am and 12.30pm. Given that there are no rival candidates, the Returning Officer may raise the objections.
If her nomination is successful, she will be declared President and start her term from Thursday.