Singapore has entered a new era with a woman President. And decidedly stark must be the contrast with Myanmar, the country that now bears witness to the persecution of minorities. Not so, however, in enlightened Singapore which now boasts a Malay ~ a minority segment ~ in the presidential palace of Istana. The race factor, unlike in Myanmar once more, has turned out to be of little or no relevance in the overall construct. Having said that, the singularly jarring note of Halimah Yacob’s assumption of office must be that it was a walkover, a development not quite concordant with the certitudes of democracy. The short point must be that Singapore has elected its President without a vote being cast; yet in the moment of a watershed outcome, it would be less than gracious to aver that the selection was undemocratic. It is pretty obvious that eligibility has been a critical determinant not least because the other two candidates did not, in the reckoning of the Presidential Elections Committee, meet the “eligibility requirements” stipulated by the law of the land. To an extent, India’s NOTA option has been exercised in the true sense of the term. Already, there is a groundswell of popular goodwill and support for Halimah, who happens to be the former Speaker of Parliament. Arguably, an open contest would have given her the opportunity to buttress her record of public service to the people. It could also be argued that she would well have been elected on the strength of her merit. Which factor is decidedly more important than her community which has been accorded a relatively minor rating in the psephological swing towards an ethnic group and the gender of the candidate. In the net, the citystate will for the first time have a woman Head of State, representing the “HDB heartland”, so-called. Yet, the tenets of multiracialism, as formulated by the nation’s founders, can of course play a decisive role in the event of a contest. The praxis of a reserved election for minority candidates has been a contentious issue in Singapore as it envisages the exclusion of other races. In the event, last Tuesday witnessed the triumph of meritocracy, facilitated by the “ineligibility” of the other two candidates.
Profound indeed has been Halimah’s response to her famous victory. She has been able to counter the debunking in certain quarters that she is a “President-Select” ~ “I’m a President for everyone. Although there has been no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same.” Thus was she able to steer clear of the societal divisions of race, gender, community, and ethnicity. Her victory can be contextualised with the Singapore government’s decision last year that the “post of President would next be held by a person of Malay descent”. As Singapore enters a new phase of development, Halimah deserves all the support that the nation can muster.