KUALA LUMPUR: The likely election of Halimah Yacob as the next president of Singapore will herald a symbolic victory for women in Southeast Asia.
It will also be a plus point for ethnic relations in Singapore, as Halimah, who resigned on Monday as speaker of parliament, comes from the minority Malay community in the island state.
A report in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) noted that women did not figure prominently in Singapore and Malaysia and that Singapore might be on the verge of a political milestone with the likely election of Halimah as its first female president next month,
The report quoted Netina Tan, a Canada-based researcher who focuses on the representation of Asian women in politics as saying: “Halimah is the PAP’s (People’s Action Party) favoured and most efficient candidate as she is a symbol that concentrates diversity – ethnicity, religion and gender all at once.”
Tan, an assistant political science professor at McMaster University said Halimah was a visible cue to voters that Singapore politics was diversifying and inclusive.
Mustafa Izzuddin, a Singaporean political researcher said a victory for Halimah would be “a major step forward”.
“She will not only break another glass ceiling within Singapore but also put Singapore on the world map,” the report quoted Mustafa as saying.
Lawyer Halimah, 62, on Monday, said she would contest to succeed Tony Tan Keng Yam as president. She has quit as a member of the ruling PAP and her position as parliament speaker.
Although the post is largely ceremonial, the president wields some veto powers on the appointment of key bureaucrats and the use of the country’s deep financial reserves.
A Malay has not held the presidency since Yusof Ishak, who held the position from 1965 until his death in 1970.
Two businessmen, Farid Khan Kaim Khan and Mohamed Salleh Marican, have also declared their candidacy for the coming polls.
While Halimah automatically met the qualification criteria for the presidency,neither of her two contenders, both from the private sector, automatically qualified.
Applicants from the private sector have to show that they have helmed a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity.
Halimah meets the criteria set out for those in the public sector, having held office for three or more years.
However, the Presidential Elections Committee is empowered to allow anyone to contest if it is satisfied that the person has served three years or more within a private sector organisation and “has experience and ability that is comparable” to that of someone who has served as the chief executive of a company with a shareholders’ equity of S$500 million.
Following changes to the electon of the president, this year’s election has been reserved for candidates from the Malay community.