The President of Singapore

Singapore’s president or head of state is entrusted with executive authority, a shared legislative authority with Parliament, and is described as the country’s No. 1 diplomat. As of 2020, Halimah binti Yacob has been serving as the President of Singapore since she was elected unopposed in 2017.

Prior to her election, she served as a Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC between 2001 and 2015, an MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC between 2015 and 2017 and as a member of the People’s Action Party. From 2013, she worked as the 9th Speaker of Parliament until her resignation in 2017 to participate in the country’s presidential election. Since she was the only candidate eligible to run for presidency, she contested unopposed, won and was sworn in on the 14th of September 2017, making her the first female president in Singaporean history and the second Muslim following former president Yusof Ishak. Her term of office will expire on the 13th of September 2023.

Presidency

The office of the President replaced the office of Yang di-Pertuan Negara after Singapore became recognized as a republic in 1965. Yusof Ishak took on the role as the country’s first president; Benjamin Sheares succeeded him, followed by Chengara Veetil Devan Nair who served as president from 1981 to 1985. Wee Kim Wee replaced Nair in 1985 and served until 1993. Ong Teng Cheong became Singapore’s fifth president, maintaining his office from September 1993 till August 1999. S.R. Nathan became president in September 1999 after being selected by the Presidential Elections Committee as the only qualified candidate. His first term lasted between September 1999 and August 2005, after which he was re-elected without opposition. Tony Tan assumed office in September 2011 after winning the 2011 Singapore presidential election. In September 2017, Halimah Yacob succeeded him as the eighth president of Singapore.

After stepping down from her position as Speaker of Parliament and MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee on August 7, 2017, Halimah’s official campaign website was launched on August 25, 2017. Her slogan “Do Good Do Together”, was heavily criticized for being grammatically wrong, but she defended it by explaining that it was designed to be catchy.

Her first state visit was to Brunei on May 11, 2018. She became the first Singaporean president to visit the Netherlands after being invited by Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands. The visit lasted between November 20 and November 24, 2018.

President Yacob oversaw the signing of 8 memorandums in 2019 between Singapore and the Philippines which allowed the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises to increase in the areas of science and technology, human resource development, skills training and data protection.

Personal Life

She was born to an Indian father and Malay mother on Queen’s Street. At age 8, her father died of a heart attack leaving herself and her four other siblings to be raised single-handedly by her mother. During her childhood, she helped her mother sell nasi padang outside the Best Way Building, formerly Singapore Polytechnic. She studied at the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, the Tanjong Katong Girls’ School and later the University of Singapore, where she earned a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1978. She was called to the Bar in 1981 and finished a Master of Laws at the National University of Singapore in 2001.

She has had five children from her marriage to Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee.

Before delving into politics, Halimah worked at the National Trades Union Congress as a legal officer, later becoming the director of the union’s legal services department in 1992. While at the National Trades Union Congress, she took on other roles including Deputy Secretary General and Director of the Women’s Development Secretariat. In 1999, she was appointed director of the Singapore Institute of Labor Studies.

The International Labor Conference in Geneva elected her as the Workers’ Vice-Chairperson of the Standards Committee from 2000-2002, and later in 2005. She also served as the Workers’ Spokesperson for the International Labor Conference Committee on Human Resources Development and Training between 2003 and 2004.

Political Career and Achievements

Halimah’s first political position was in 2001 when she was elected as the MP for the Jurong Group Representation Constituency. She was later appointed Minister of State at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports in 2011. She assumed the role of Minister of State at the Ministry of Social and Family Development in November 2012 after a Cabinet reshuffle.

She became a member of the People’s Action Party Central Executive Committee in 2015 and the only minority candidate contesting the Marsiling- Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong nominated her to succeed Michael Palmer as the Speaker of Parliament on January 8, 2013. On January 14, 2013, she was elected as the first female Speaker of Parliament in Singapore.

On July 7, 2016, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by the National University of Singapore.

In 2001, she was given the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award.

She won the AWARE Heroine Award in 2011 and was honored with the Her World Woman of the Year Award in 2003.

In 2014, she was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame.

Trivia

Having assumed office as president, she became the first head of state to be living in a Housing Development Board (HDB) duplex located in Yishun. Although she had earlier stated that she would be staying in her HDB duplex throughout her term, the Ministry of Home Affairs on October 2, 2017 announced that she and her family would be moving out due to identified security threats.

She has condemned and disassociated herself from Islamic extremism, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

Chan Chun Sing, during the debate on the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill on February 6, 2017, addressed Halimah Yacob as Madam President instead of Madam Speaker, sparking major speculations that she would be the PAP’s preferred presidential candidate.

During a speech at the Women’s Forum Asia 2019, she advocated for organizations to embrace gender equality. She has publicly spoken against the local podcast Okletsgo for their offensive comments targeted at women, asking the show’s hosts to render an apology.

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