No plans to run for president, says Yaacob Ibrahim

Whoever steps up for the role of president must see the office not as a job but as a calling, says Dr Yaacob, adding that there are enough Malay candidates for the highest office in the land.
Whoever steps up for the role of president must see the office not as a job but as a calling, says Dr Yaacob, adding that there are enough Malay candidates for the highest office in the land.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Minister who has been touted as a potential candidate says he is happy in his current role doing policy work

Cabinet minister Yaacob Ibrahim has ruled himself out of the upcoming presidential election, which will be reserved for Malay candidates.

In an interview with Malay newspaper Berita Minggu published yesterday, the Minister for Communications and Information said he does not see himself running for president, and is happy in his current role.

"I like to do policy work because it affects people's lives," said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs. "I'm happy in so far as I think I can effect change, to bring about a better Singapore. I'd like to remain in that position."

Dr Yaacob, 61, has been touted as a potential candidate for the presidential election that must be held by August, as he is one of several Malay individuals who meet the eligibility criteria based on public sector experience.

In November last year, Parliament passed several changes to the Constitution that included stricter eligibility criteria and a provision to ensure a president from a minority race is elected from time to time.

 

The move paved the way for Singapore to have its first Malay president in over 46 years, since the country's first president Yusof Ishak died in office in November 1970.

While Dr Yaacob does not intend to contest the presidency, he said there are enough Malay candidates for the highest office in the land.

"Whoever steps up must not see the office as a job," he said, but as a calling.

The person will have to qualify based on the higher bar and earn the respect of all Singaporeans to the point that people are not reminded of his or her race, he noted.

"What we must make sure is that the person must be a 'damn good president'. A president that is so good, people forget his or her race," he added.

He acknowledged that he was initially "very uneasy" with the idea of a reserved election, but noted that it is necessary for all Singaporeans, as a reminder that this is a multiracial nation.

Dr Yaacob, who entered politics in 1997 and has been a Cabinet minister since 2002, also spoke about other issues in the wide-ranging interview.

On the international front, he is worried about the shift in attention from global problems such as climate change and poverty to "petty politics, hatred politics, misogynistic ideas like what Donald Trump is peddling".

There is a climate of fear when politicians stoke public anxieties to win votes.

"That is very dangerous because what you have unleashed is something you cannot control. People will now see that it is legitimate for you to victimise Muslims, minorities, women," said Dr Yaacob.

Asked what can be done to help Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar, he said Singapore is giving humanitarian aid and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has raised funds.

Muslim Singaporeans are concerned about what happens to other Muslim communities, but they cannot meddle in the politics of other countries, he noted.

Moving to the economy and jobs, he said Malay-Muslim self-help group Mendaki, which has had success in lifting the community through education programmes for students, is mulling over how to help workers with skills upgrading.

This will help those who lose their jobs owing to disruptions to the economy.

Citing taxi driving as an example, Dr Yaacob said cabbies run the risk of having Uber "eat" them up if they do not change. "Continuous learning must be our next 'battle cry' for the community," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'No plans to run for president, says Yaacob'. Print Edition | Subscribe