Who is Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first female President?

Who is Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first female President?

Mdm Halimah Yacob outside the Elections Department on on Sep 11, 2017. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Madam Halimah Yacob has been named President-elect and will be sworn in on Thursday (Sep 14) as Singapore's eighth President and its first female head of state.

She was the only one of three prospective candidates to receive a certificate of eligibility for this year's Presidential Election, which was reserved for the Malay community. Two other presidential hopefuls, Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican and Mr Farid Khan, had their applications to stand for the election turned down on Monday as both did not meet a requirement for private-sector candidates to helm companies with at least S$500 million in shareholders' equity.

The 63-year-old will be Singapore's first female President and the first Malay head of state in more than 47 years, breaking barriers yet again after being elected as the first female Speaker of Parliament in 2013.

THE ROAD TO PRESIDENCY

The youngest of five children, Mdm Halimah was just eight years old when her father, a watchman, died. Her mother became the sole breadwinner, helping out at a food stall before dawn till late at night. 

"From the age of 10, my hours outside of school were spent being my mother's assistant: cleaning, washing, clearing tables and serving customers, and I am a better person for it," Mdm Halimah wrote in her bio on her website. "I have experienced poverty firsthand and know how debilitating it can be as you struggle to survive, to put food on the table and also grapple with the uncertainty of the future on a daily basis. It limits your choices but also tempers your determination to succeed."

In Secondary 2, she was nearly kicked out of Singapore Chinese Girls' School for missing too many classes.

“That was one of the worst moments of my life. But I told myself, ‘Stop wallowing in self-pity, pick yourself up and move on,'" Mdm Halimah told Channel NewsAsia in an interview last month.

She later went on to attend Tanjong Katong Girls’ School and graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree, subsequently obtaining her Master of Laws at the National University of Singapore.

Her career began in 1978 with the National Trades Union Congress, where she served in various roles for the next three decades, eventually rising to become the labour movement's deputy secretary-general.

She entered politics at the urging of then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2001, and was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC). Ten years later, she was given the portfolio of Minister of State for the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Prior to announcing her intention to run as President last month, Mdm Halimah was serving as both Speaker of Parliament and MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC - both roles she has since relinquished.

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).

The decision to run for the highest office of the land did not come easy: The mother of five told Channel NewsAsia her children initially had reservations about being in the public eye.

However, they and her husband - her university sweetheart Mohamed Abdullah - gave their support after some discussion.

Mdm Halimah Yacob and her husband Mohamed Abdullah. (Photo: halimah.sg)

Since her bid for presidency was made known, Mdm Halimah has repeatedly denied allegations that she may lack independence due to her close ties to the People’s Action Party.

"It is a gross disservice ... even (among) those who continue to hold party colours, if they put the interest of people behind party colours," she said at a press conference last month, citing times when she disagreed with the Government both as a trade unionist and as an MP.

She also said on Monday that her commitment to serve Singaporeans was not affected by the fact that there is no election. "I promise to do the best that I can to serve the people of Singapore and that doesn't change whether there is an election or no election ... My passion and commitment to serve the people of Singapore remains the same."

Mdm Halimah has said that as President, she hopes Singaporeans will work together with her to build a stronger Singapore. One of the President's roles is to act as a unifying force, she said.

"The process may be a reserved election but the President is for everyone, for all communities – regardless of race and religion."

Source: CNA/mz