New President-elect

Nomination Day: A historic event under the midday sun

No grandiose proclamations, just a simple and heartfelt speech from Halimah

Mr Koh Heong Hwee, his wife Goh Lian Choo (left) and fellow Buona Vista CC member Theresa Toh at the nomination centre yesterday.
Mr Koh Heong Hwee, his wife Goh Lian Choo (left) and fellow Buona Vista CC member Theresa Toh at the nomination centre yesterday. ST PHOTO: WONG KIM HOH

The clock on the wall read 10.30am. A middle-aged Chinese man in a white T-shirt, baggy olive shorts and well-worn sandals sat outside Soon Ho Eating House in Block 803, King George's Avenue, nursing a mug of black coffee.

On occasion, he would tear his eyes away from his smartphone and gaze lazily across the road at the security personnel and small crowd outside the People's Association Headquarters.

Asked if he planned to join them to await the arrival of Madam Halimah Yacob and the historic announcement of her presidency, the man - who declined to give his name - snorted.

"No need to vote, so no need to be there also what!" he said.

His indifference was in stark contrast to Mr Koh Heong Hwee, 70, who brought a box filled with cardboard plaques bearing Madam Halimah's image, put together by some friends from Buona Vista Community Club.

The irrepressibly friendly former cabby pointed to his wife Goh Lian Choo, 76, who was carrying a box of orange gerberas.

"She had a valve replacement, I had a bypass. Both of us have had heart surgery, so our hearts are very open," he joked with a loud guffaw. "We accept Madam Halimah and are very happy to have her as our first female president."

Madam Latipah Mohd Noor, 57, who works in patient care at the National Heart Centre, couldn't agree more. A volunteer at Taman Jurong, she worked with Madam Halimah when the latter was an MP for Jurong GRC.

"Perempuan boleh," she said, using the Malay phrase which means "women are capable".

"It is time we have a female president. Women do so many things, they run the household, they raise kids, they work. Madam Halimah has proven herself," said the chatty woman who drove to the event with 13 of her friends, including Madam Noriah Saniman, 72, and Madam Fatimah Mimi, 59, both of whom wore bright orange tudungs. Orange, representing unity, was the colour chosen for Madam Halimah's campaign.

Madam Latipah is aware of the unhappiness in some quarters that this presidential election was reserved for Malays, and that there was no contest. "It is not her fault. The Malay community is not big and not many people stepped forward," she said with a shrug.

Perhaps it was the searing 33 deg C heat. Or the divisiveness of the contest and the fact that it was a walkover. But yesterday's historic event was a lot less boisterous than campaign and victory rallies at general elections.

Former marketing executive Yap Weng Seng, 57, said he would have attended the event if Madam Halimah had won in a contest. "She is very well regarded and she would have stood a good chance of winning. I just don't like the whole idea of a reserved election."

The around 700 people who turned up included members of some 45 unions who went to show their support for the former deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

The day began for Madam Halimah at her Yishun flat, where she met relatives and supporters before going to the NTUC Centre in a black sedan. From there, she and key members of her campaign team made their way to the nomination centre, where she submitted her papers.

When she emerged on stage at noon, the crowd - rendered listless by the sweltering heat - suddenly found new vigour. They rushed across the field to hear her speak, unfurling banners and umbrellas, brandishing fans - both old-fashioned and battery-operated - as well as whistles.

Singapore's second Malay president eschewed grandiose proclamations, opting instead to deliver a simple but heartfelt speech. She was weighed down by an avalanche of garlands when she walked into the crowd after her speech.

Former oil refinery technician Ho Kin Tong, 75, was glad he attended the event. "It really doesn't matter if the president is Chinese or Malay, man or woman, as long as he or she is a good president. Just give Madam Halimah time, I am sure she will prove herself."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline Nomination Day: A historic event under the midday sun. Subscribe