13 September 2017
By Frances Nwabufoe
Halimah Yacob, a former speaker of Parliament, is set to become Singapore’s first female President and the first in five decades to come from the Malay ethnicity.
In a bid to strengthen a sense of inclusivity in the multicultural city-state, Singapore had decreed the presidency would be reserved for candidates from the minority Malay community this time. Malays make up about 13 per cent of the population, but the government is dominated by ethnic Chinese, who make up about three-quarters.
Although the country’s Constitution provides for voters, the criteria for the candidates made Ms. Halimah the sole qualifier. She was certified by the Presidential Elections Commission, on Monday, as the only eligible candidate without opponent. Thus, there will be no election.
The government initially narrowed the criteria last year to permit only a Malay to serve as the next President, on the ground that no Malay had held the post in the five preceding terms and later tightened the criteria to include a requirement that any candidate from the private sector must have been a senior executive of a company with at least 500 million Singapore dollars in equity or about $371 million.
However, what could have been a notable milestone for Singapore’s democracy is instead being publicly questioned as a rigged process.
Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at Singapore Management University, said the government erred in depriving the public of a chance to vote, insisting that “A contest would have added to her legitimacy.”
Ms. Halimah was a member of Parliament and a leader of the People’s Action Party before giving up her seat last month to run for President at age 63.