HIROMI OCHI WRITES – Halimah Yacob, Singapore’s first woman president, was sworn in September 14, marking the start of a six-year term. What could’ve been seen as an incredible feat in Singapore’s democracy by electing their first female president, is currently being overshadowed by the fact that she won without a single person in Singapore even casting a vote.
Madam Yacob, who stepped down as Speaker of Parliament and Member of Parliament for the Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC in order to run for this year’s presidential election, is currently under scrutiny for winning her election through a walkover. The 6th Presidential Election candidacy was reserved for only Malay citizens of Singapore because the country hasn’t had a Malay President in the last five terms.
Two of the presidential candidates were disqualified because they were not from the Malay community, and the other two candidates from the private sector never led a company with at least $500 million dollars in capital. The latter criteria was recently updated within the past year, by the Constitutional Commission of Singapore which raised this requirement from $100 million. This left many Singaporeans disappointed because the recent qualification was one of the major factors that lead to the automatic victory for Madam Yacob.
An estimated 2,000 Singaporeans, clad in black, held a silent sit-in protest to express their discontent at Singapore’s Speakers’ Corner – an area where citizens can exercise their free speech through organized demonstrations and protests. Discontent Singaporeans also took to Twitter with the #notmypresident hashtag.
But is it justified to say that Madam Yacob did not earn her presidency because other candidates did not meet the criteria? The rule of having to head a company with a paid-up capital of $100 million was formulated 25 years ago under the revered Lee Kuan Yew. The Constitutional Commission simply amended it to reflect inflation and a much more affluent Singapore that now has more than $700 billion in reserves. Though the people of Singapore might think that this number is too high and leaves little room for candidates from different backgrounds to contest for the presidency, the question really is whether Singapore should allow an outdated rule to determine who can run for president.
Halimah Is keeping a stiff upper lip. During her first press conference since it was announced she was the only eligible candidate, he new president stated: “Whether there is an election or not, my passion and commitment to serve the people of Singapore remain the same.”