ST Forumer, Tara Hasnain, praised President Halimah in a forum letter today (9 Jul) for suggesting to hold the cohesiveness conference more often. Halimah mentioned this at a recently held international conference on cohesive societies.
“What a positive initiative!” said Ms Hasnain.
“Singapore, with its strong cohesion in the political, social, cultural and many other spheres, is certainly a good place to live in, and it works tirelessly to foster peace and coexistence despite its multicultural and multi-religious makeup, touting such diversity as a strength.”
“Kudos to President Halimah Yacob for seeing the increased peace and happiness this can bring. I hope this Singapore initiative gives the world a new paradigm to measure not just national stability but also the social resilience and contentment of those who live here, and promotes a strong sense of becoming a more caring and compassionate nation,” she added.
Ms Hasnain noted that a cohesive society can inspire residents to share more of their lives with those they don’t know, and to work towards a greater sense of neighbourliness, “embodying the famous kampung spirit of Singapore”.
She concluded her letter by quoting Halimah: “Only a cohesive society built upon mutual trust can harness the strength of its diversity, so that its people can build a better future. And this trust has to begin with a discourse anchored on cohesion, not division; on unity, not discord; on respect, not distrust; and on building bridges and common spaces, not walls and watchtowers.”
Ironically, Halimah’s own presidency has brought difference in opinions within the Singapore society.
Those who supported the establishment like many of the grassroots and business people cheered Halimah who became the President of Singapore through a change in the constitution and through a walkover.
“This has been a divisive run-up to the (presidential) nomination”
On 13 Sep 2017, Halimah was declared the winner via a walkover at the People’s Association headquarters in Jalan Besar.
“I am a President for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. Although there is no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same,” she said in a victory speech.
Many business and grassroots community groups sent their congratulations to Halimah on that day.
For example, the Singapore Business Federation wished her a “fruitful term” in office, and said it looked forward to working with her and her office to benefit businesses and the community while the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations said the breadth and depth of her experience would be an advantage in building “social capital” for Singapore’s development.
“The Chinese community is confident that under Madam Halimah’s capable leadership, Singapore will continue to prosper and progress as one united nation,” it said.
But Mr Salleh Marican, one of the 2 people who wanted to run for the presidency but were disqualified for not having met the revised criteria for applicants, noted that the Presidential Election 2017 was fraught with divisiveness in the society.
He said, “This has been a divisive run-up to the nomination. I hope she (Halimah) will heal the wounds.”
Many Singaporeans have criticised the government for changing the constitution to enable Halimah to run for president. Halimah’s father was an Indian by race. Following amendments to the Constitution, the election was the first to be “reserved” for a particular racial group under a hiatus-triggered model. The 2017 election was reserved for candidates from the minority Malay community, who had not held the presidential office since 1970.
The Elections Department declared Halimah to be the only eligible presidential candidate on 11 Sep 2017 and was consequently declared president-elect on 13 Sep. She was inaugurated the following day.
According to the changes to the Constitution:
19B.—(1) An election for the office of President is reserved for a community if no person belonging to that community has held the office of President for any of the 5 most recent terms of office of the President.
“community” means —
(a) the Chinese community;
(b) the Malay community; or
(c) the Indian or other minority communities;
“person belonging to the Malay community” means any person, whether of the Malay race or otherwise, who considers himself to be a member of the Malay community and who is generally accepted as a member of the Malay community by that community;
Even though Halimah is not a Malay by race, she considers herself to be a member of the Malay community and is, supposedly, “generally accepted as a member of the Malay community” by the Malay community members.