Three weeks after she was declared President and indicated her desire to continue living in her HDB flat, Madam Halimah Yacob is moving out because of security challenges.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday that it had "strongly advised" the President to consider moving to another place as security agencies tasked to protect her would face challenges if she continued to live in her home in Yishun.
After being sworn in on Sept 14, Madam Halimah stayed on, making her the first head of state to live in public housing while in office. Singapore's past presidents had lived in private homes or at the Istana.
Madam Halimah also told reporters she wanted to continue living in her sixth-floor flat during her six-year term, sparking questions about security arrangements.
Yesterday, MHA said it "strongly advised the President to consider moving to another place" after assessing security arrangements.
"This will enable the agencies to ensure her safety and security with greater assurance," it added.
Since her election as President, police have intensified security measures in the area. An awning was put up, for instance, at the foot of the HDB block, and it extended from the void deck to a carpark space reserved for police vehicles.
Madam Halimah, acknowledging the security challenges, said in a Facebook post that she had accepted the security recommendations: "As much as I would like to continue living in my current home in Yishun, I have accepted MHA's recommendation and will make arrangements to move to a new place soon." She also thanked people for their concern.
When asked, the Istana declined to say where she will move to.
The Yishun flat was the first property Madam Halimah, 63, and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, a retired businessman, bought as a couple over 30 years ago, and where they raised their two sons and three daughters, aged 26 to 36. The couple later made it a jumbo flat by combining the four-room unit with a neighbouring five-room flat bought on the resale market.
Political observers said Madam Halimah's impending move could understandably spark some disappointment, as her earlier decision to continue living in the flat was very well received.
Law don Eugene Tan said: "It added to her common touch as an HDB heartlander. It was a wonderful endorsement for the ubiquitous HDB flat in which 80 per cent of Singaporeans live." But he stressed that security would ultimately have to take precedence, given her important role as head of state.
He added that if the present location is challenging to security agencies, it "would also pose potential security concerns to her neighbours".
Dr Norshahril Saat of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute said the fact that some people have uploaded photos and videos of Madam Halimah, shot from neighbouring blocks, raises security concerns. Given the heightened security climate and terror threat, it was all the more important to ensure the security of Singapore's leaders, he added.
For almost a month, her block was closely scrutinised, as curious Singaporeans went there hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
Her neighbours told The Straits Times yesterday that they did not feel inconvenienced by the changes to their estate. Some quipped that they would miss the added security.
Long-time resident Sumana Divekar, in her 40s, said she felt proud that such a down-to-earth President lives in her block. Retiree Irene Song, 64, said in Mandarin: "It is a bit hard to let go of such a good neighbour, everyone likes her. But as long as it is what she wants and she is happy, that is all that matters."