Speaker Halimah ‘thinking about’ entering race to be Singapore president

Halimah Yacob said she will have to consult her family and colleagues before joining in the presidential race. — TODAY file picture
Halimah Yacob said she will have to consult her family and colleagues before joining in the presidential race. — TODAY file picture

SINGAPORE, July 17 — Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said yesterday for the first time that she is considering throwing her hat in the ring in the coming presidential race, but will have to consult her family members and colleagues first.

“I’ve been thinking about it (running for elected presidency) — it needs a bit of time to think (it over),” she said.

“But I must say at this moment, I’ve a lot of duties I have to perform as Speaker (and) as a Member of Parliament. Those duties are also very dear and very important to me.”

Speaking to reporters at an event in Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency, the 62-year-old stressed that the Elected Presidency (EP) was a “very heavy responsibility and important institution”.

“So it’s not something that one should take lightly. The duties are really also heavy duties,” she said.

Halimah has decided to share her “thought processes” because she has been posed the question many times by Singaporeans in and beyond her constituency, many of whom have encouraged her to contest.

“I’m really, really deeply honoured, and also deeply humbled by the many Singaporeans who have asked me on so many different occasions from all walks of life,” she said.

But it is “not an easy decision to make”, she maintained, adding that the residents in Marsiling, which she has helmed since the 2015 General Election, are a key consideration.

“(They) will always be close to my heart. I really love serving the residents, and I’ve introduced a lot of programmes here. But the most encouraging thing is that a lot of residents also encourage me (to contest).”

Halimah, who has spent 40 years in public service, was in the National Trades Union Congress more than three decades, in various roles including Deputy Secretary-General.

She served as Minister of State at the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports from May 2011 to January 2013, before assuming the position of Singapore’s ninth Speaker of Parliament.

She also served as MP in Jurong GRC for 14 years and chaired its town council. To run for September’s Presidential Election reserved for Malay Singaporeans, she would have to step down as Speaker and MP by Nomination Day, and resign from the People’s Action Party. She is a member of the central executive committee and chair of the PAP Seniors Group.

Asked if she is concerned about her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, 62, being thrust into the limelight should she become head of state, Halimah said the businessman was already a familiar face within the grassroots.

“My grassroots leaders in Marsiling and also our residents already know him. He takes part in a lot of activities here quite actively,” she said.

“This is all public service. Whoever is the spouse of the president will have to see it as a contribution to public service as well.”

Two others have announced their presidential bids thus far: Second Chance Properties chief executive officer Mohamed Salleh Marican and marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan Kaim Khan.

Asked if she had any words for her contenders, Halimah said: “I think it’s good: People should come forward and take part in the process ... That’s a mark of democracy.”

Both men also welcomed the potential competition.

Said Salleh, 67: “Today’s world is all about choices and competition ... whether in business or in politics. A walkover in an important election like the PE is not good for a maturing democracy like SG. I welcome a contest.”

He declined to comment, however, on how Halimah’s potential candidacy may affect his chances: “These are early days. So it’s premature to talk about advantages and disadvantages. At this stage, all I can say is this: Let the voters decide.”

Farid, 62, would only say: “I welcome Madam Halimah’s intention to contest in the upcoming president election.”

At a separate event, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung told Channel NewsAsia: “I was her colleague in NTUC for a few years. I always felt she had a strong heart for workers.

“I wish her all the best, and I wish her wisdom in her decision.” — TODAY

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