SINGAPORE - Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said on Sunday (July 16) that she is considering standing in the coming presidential election in September.
This is the strongest indication yet of her intention to run, and follows months of speculation about her possible candidacy in the election reserved for Malay candidates.
"I am thinking about it, of running for the presidency," she told reporters after a community event at her Marsiling ward. "The elected presidency is a very heavy responsibility and an important institution in Singapore, so it's not something that one should take lightly... so it needs a bit of time to think."
Madam Halimah, 62, said she has been asked the question “many, many times” by Singaporeans from all walks of life, and was honoured and humbled.
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Although she has spoken to her family and colleagues about the prospect, she added, she wanted to consult them further.
“It’s not a question that you can just make a decision alone. I need to consult my family and collegues who are supporting me in the various duties that I am doing,” she said.
She also said that for now, she still had to fulfil her duties as Speaker of Parliament and MP: “These duties are also very dear and important to me.”
Until Sunday, she had refused to address the persistent talk that she will run, deftly deflecting questions by reporters without confirming or denying the rumours.
Her name had come up as she ticks all the boxes of the eligibility criteria for those from the public sector, having spent at least three years in a key public office.
Madam Halimah, a unionist-turned-politician, has been Speaker of Parliament since Jan 14, 2013.
As part of her role, she is required to assume the duties of the President should both the President and the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers be away.
Madam Halimah, who made her remarks after officially opening an orchid garden and an edible garden at her constituency, said she was “not really announcing” a presidential bid.
Asked why she decided to address the topic now, she said: “A lot of Singaporeans have asked me so that’s why I want to share with you the thought processes that I go through...before making the final decision.”
She added that she was guided by an important principle that she has adhered to in 40 years of public service: “I feel that in whatever capacity that we serve, it is important that we serve Singapore and we serve Singaporeans. That is always my guiding principle.”
To contest the election, she will have to step down as Speaker of Parliament and MP of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC by Nomination Day, and also resign from the People's Action Party, of which she is a member of the central executive committee and chair of the PAP Seniors Group.
Madam Halimah did not address what would happen if she leaves her constituency, but said her residents would “always be close to my heart”.
“The most encouraging thing is that a lot of residents also encourage me. So the support and encouragement of residents, of Singaporeans from all walks of life has really made me feel very humbled, very honoured,” she added.
“Frankly, to me that is really very meaningful, very important.”
So far, two other people have announced their intention to run: chairman of marine service provider Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific Farid Khan Kaim Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive officer Mohamed Salleh Marican, 67.
Both men have collected application forms from the Elections Department.
One requirement for candidates from the private sector to qualify is that they must have been the top executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity.
Bourbon Offshore Asia, a subsidiary of French multinational marine company Bourbon, reportedly has shareholder equity of US$300 million ($415 million), while Second Chance Properties, which is listed on the main board of the Singapore Exchange since 2004, has had shareholders' equity of between $254.3 million and $263.25 million in the last three financial years.
However, the Presidential Elections Committee, which determines if candidates are eligible to run, has the discretion to consider whether aspirants have the experience and ability to carry out the functions and duties of the office, should they not meet this threshold.
Prospective candidates also need a newly set up Community Committee to declare that they are part of the Malay community and give them a community certificate.
The coming presidential election is reserved for candidates from the Malay community, following changes to the elected presidency scheme last year to ensure the highest office in the land reflects Singapore's multiracial society.
An election is reserved for candidates from a racial group, if no one from the group has been represented in the presidency for five consecutive terms.
Singapore has not had a Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak, the country's first president, died in office in 1970.
The announcements of Mr Farid and Mr Salleh about their intentions had sparked debate among some quarters about whether or not they are Malay enough.
Both men are born in Singapore, but some have taken issue with the fact that Mr Farid is of Pakistani descent, while others have criticised Mr Salleh for not being fluent in Malay.
Asked for her comments on this, Madam Halimah said: “I am very much a member of the Malay community.”
She added that her father, who died when she was 8 years old, was born in Singapore, and she was brought up by her mother, who is Malay.
The last day to submit an application for the election is five days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong issues the writ of election. He is expected to do so in late August.
Madam Halimah did not want to say whether she had collected application forms.
When asked, she quipped: “(In the) modern day you don’t need to collect the form...whoever wants to stand as a candidate can download it.”
On whether her husband will mind being in the limelight - since he will also have duties as the spouse of a president if she decides to run and is elected - Madam Halimah said: “Whoever is the spouse of the elected president will have to see it as a contribution to public service as well.”
She added that her husband has taken part in “a lot of activities” in her constituency and is known to grassroots leaders and residents.
Shortly after news emerged on Sunday that she is thinking of contesting, Mr Farid sent a statement to the press, saying: “I welcome Madam Halimah’s intention to contest in the upcoming president election.”