It was Thursday evening (Sept. 14) when the inauguration ceremony for Singapore’s first female President was held. The grand State Room of the Istana was silenced by this solemn moment as 63-year-old Halimah Yacob inked her signature after she took the oath to mark the start of her six-year term. And it was official; Singapore has sworn in its first Female Malay President — a monumental ceremony that will go down in history as the country’s first Malay head of state since its first President, Yusof Ishak.
Difficult Childhood, Strong Fighter.
Yacob’s childhood wasn’t a perfect one. The youngest of five children, Halimah was just eight years old when her father, a watchman, died. To survive, Yacob helped out her mother — the sole breadwinner of her family — at a food stall before dawn till late at night. Getting through poverty and being nearly kicked out of Singapore Chinese Girls School, Yacob pulled through her darkest moments as she graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree, subsequently obtaining her Master of Laws at the National University of Singapore. Her grit has eventually led her to uphold the role of Speaker of Parliament.
Over the years, she has advocated for women’s rights, spoke up on senior citizens and mental health issues, and served as patron to associations such as Club HEAL and PPIS (Singapore Muslim Women’s Association). Her presidency gives Yacob a platform to enhance her strong advocation for Women’s Rights and racial harmony. Being the country’s first female president to ever hold office, this progressive move was also faced with a lot of criticism, particularly on how the election was held.
Rising Above the Controversy
This year’s election was different from past years as the Singapore Government has introduced new criteria for this year’s candidates- to have a reserved election for candidates only from a Malay Ethnicity. The new election criteria drew sharp controversy amongst the Singaporean public on the violation of meritocracy. Those strong sentiments were still present when Yacob was sworn in as the President of Singapore, a ‘Silent Protest‘ was held by members of the public on Saturday (Sept. 16) against the new ruling.
In her first speech as President, Halimah said her duty was to unite Singaporeans. Addressing the controversy of the recent changes to the Elected Presidency, she said: “Like them, I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the provision to have reserved elections, and Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as Presidents.” She also added: “Today, I want to assure all Singaporeans that as your President, I will serve every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion.”
6 Years Awaits
A progressive face for Singapore is also a backward, undermining one for meritocracy. All that’s left for Singapore is to see how the newly-elected president will lead Singapore in this turbulent economy.