Halimah Yacob: First woman Speaker will be first woman presidential candidate

Residents of Marsiling are sad to see their MP Halimah Yacob go as she officially announced her bid to run for President. Madam Halimah, who is also Speaker of Parliament, will resign from her posts on Aug 7.
Madam Halimah Yacob interacting with former samsui woman Woo Yum Sum (left) and retiree Margaret Low, both from Redhill Moral Senior Activity Centre, at the Singapore Women's Association's Chinese New Year lunch on March 19, 2015.
Madam Halimah Yacob interacting with former samsui woman Woo Yum Sum (left) and retiree Margaret Low, both from Redhill Moral Senior Activity Centre, at the Singapore Women's Association's Chinese New Year lunch on March 19, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Madam Halimah Yacob is Singapore's first woman Speaker of Parliament and may well be its first woman President.

The potential rise to the highest office of the land would be a far cry from the very humble beginnings of the 62-year-old.

Her father, a watchman, had died of a heart attack when she was eight, leaving her mother to raise her and her four older siblings.

Her mother initially sold nasi padang from a pushcart until she got a hawker stall licence. Madam Halimah would then wake before sunrise to help her before going to school.

She attended Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Tanjong Katong Girls' School, and was the only one in her family to go on to university.

She graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree in 1978, and started work as a legal officer at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), where she would stay for 33 years.


Madam Halimah Yacob receiving the Berita Harian and McDonald's Achiever of the Year Award from Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam (centre) in 2001 while Berita Harian editor Guntor Sadali looks on. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

Two years after graduation, she married her university sweetheart Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, a businessman.

The couple, who are of the same age, have five children.

At NTUC, Madam Halimah rose to head its legal services unit and its women's development secretariat.

 

She also became the first Singaporean on the governing body of the International Labour Organisation, where she sat from 1999 to 2011.

In 2001, she earned her Masters in law from NUS.

She entered politics the same year and was elected an MP in Jurong GRC, where she was re-elected two more times - in 2006 and 2011.


Madam Halimah Yacob in a photo published in 1995 when she was director of NTUC's legal services department. PHOTO: ST FILE

Madam Halimah focused on her union work, and was NTUC's assistant secretary-general from 1999 to 2007, before becoming deputy secretary-general from 2007 until 2011.

In 2011, she stepped down from the post when she became an office-holder. She was appointed Minister of State in the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports from 2011 to 2012, after which she moved to the Ministry of Social and Family Development.


Madam Halimah Yacob in a photo published in 2004. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

She stayed there till 2013 when at the age of 58, she was appointed Speaker of Parliament, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

In interviews, Madam Halimah constantly credited her successes to the support she received from her husband, mother and family.

She called her mother her heroine, and the day her mother died was the saddest moment of her life. It happened on the morning of Polling Day during the 2015 General Election, when she was contesting Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

Despite her illustrious career, Madam Halimah is known for being down to earth and close to the ground.


Madam Halimah Yacob at a futsal tournament at her Marsiling–Yew Tee GRC in 2016. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

She has also built a reputation for being an unstinting champion of workers, women and the poor.

In an interview with The Straits Times shortly after she was made Speaker, she said she had no plans to move out of her five-room Housing Board home in Yishun, which held many precious memories.

This was despite expectations that she would upgrade to private property.

She also said that living in the heartlands gave her a keen sense of what bothered people and the daily frustrations they faced if their estate was not well taken care of.