Candidates for president must see the office as a calling, uphold multiracialism: Yaacob

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said aspiring candidates have to "continue to carry the ethos of multiracialism".
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said aspiring candidates have to "continue to carry the ethos of multiracialism". ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

SINGAPORE - Aspiring candidates for the presidential election have to see the office not as a job but as a calling, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said on Thursday (June 1).

They must also be able to reach out to all Singaporeans, and uphold multiracialism, he said.

"Whoever is willing to step forward to take on the job must continue to carry the ethos of multiracialism, which is important," Dr Yaacob said. "He or she must continue to do their best to rally all Singaporeans, not just the Malay community."

Dr Yaacob, who is Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, was speaking to reporters at the inaugural madrasah student awards ceremony.

He also reiterated that he was not interested in running for the presidency, a point he made in an interview with Malay daily Berita Harian that was published in January this year.

Today marks the start of the process for the presidential election, as prospective candidates can get application forms to certify they are eligible to stand, and to certify that they are members of the Malay community.

This year's election, which will be held in September, is the first that will be reserved for Malay candidates, following changes to the law last year to ensure that the major races are periodically represented in the office of the president, which should reflect Singapore's multiracial society. As a result, Singapore will have a Malay president in over 46 years. Singapore's  first president Yusof Ishak died in office in 1970.

"This is an important institution. We are making this tweak primarily because we want to preserve the multiracial nature of our institution," Dr Yaacob said on Thursday.

"I see this person as not just being qualified to do the job which is needed, but as a symbol of Singapore. That symbol of multiracialism must continue to prevail. This person must be able to reach out and be seen by all Singaporeans as a person for Singapore," he added.

As a Cabinet minister, Dr Yaacob is one of several individuals eligible to stand in the presidential election as he meets the criteria required for those with public sector experience. On Wednesday, former Cabinet minister Abdullah Tarmugi also said he was not likely to run.

But founder and chief executive officer of Second Chance Properties Mohamed Salleh Marican told The Straits Times he plans to stand - though he does not automatically qualify as his company's shareholders' equity is below the threshold of $500 million required for candidates from the private sector.

However, the Presidential Elections Committee has the discretion to make an exception if it is satisfied a candidate can carry out the functions of the office.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, widely seen as a frontrunner, did not respond to requests for comment.

Applications for certificates of eligibility close five days after the prime minister issues the Writ of Election in the later part of August.

Asked what he thought of the names that have been cited as potential candidates for presidency, Dr Yaacob declined to comment, saying: "People who feel they are qualified can step forward and the process will take place."

As to why he did not want to contest, he said: "I'm very happy in my current position."