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."

I look forward to working very closely with you, and I believe we can do good together, and I invite you to do good together with me

First of all, I would like to thank all my supporters who are present here today. I am very appreciative and deeply grateful to all of you for your presence here today - members of the trade unions, community groups, religious groups and also members of the public.

I know you have been waiting here for a few hours and it is really hot under the sun, so thank you.

I am really very grateful to you because you have taken time off from your work and made the effort to come all the way here.

I (also) want to say from the bottom of my heart a very big thank you to all Singaporeans, for your support, your encouragement and your good wishes.

Over the last two weeks, I have been walking the ground very extensively. I have met many Singaporeans from all backgrounds, young, old, in many, many places. I have spoken to them and I am so heartened. I am really very grateful for their good wishes, their encouragement and their support.

Many of you not only gave words of encouragement and support, many of you patted me on the back too. Many of you also hugged me. And many of you told me you would support me even without me asking or saying anything. That warmed my heart tremendously and also made my journey here to the nomination centre all the more pleasant... So, once again, thank you to all Singaporeans. Thank you, Singaporeans.

I feel really very blessed as I start my journey.

I know some have doubts about the reserved election. I want to tell you as your President-elect: I promise to work with everyone. I am president for everyone and I intend to serve all without hesitation.

I also want to tell you that although this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I am a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans. My duty remains only to you.

Although there is no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same. There is no diminution, even by one bit, of my desire to serve you.

In fact, my resolve to work hard, to work tirelessly and with great sincerity is even greater. These are values which I hold very dear, when I perform my public duties, my public service, and it means even more to me now that I have become your President-elect.

I also stand before you as a second Malay president in 47 years. I believe that this is a proud moment for Singapore. This is a proud moment for multiculturalism, for multiracialism, for our society.

This shows that multiracialism is not just a slogan, something that is good for us to say, something for people to hear. It means that it really works in our society, that everyone has a chance to reach the highest office of the land.

This is not just good for now, but good for generations to come because it shows very positively how Singapore practises multiracialism.

I also stand before you as the first female president of Singapore.

I can see that many of our sisters here are delighted. I delight with you because it shows that this is not just tokenism, that when we talk about gender diversity, we are not just chanting slogans, but that we really mean it.

Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land, if you have the courage, the determination and the will to work hard.

Dear Singaporeans, we have a lot of work to do together. We know, and many of you here who are workers, you know we have both internal challenges and external challenges that we need to overcome. I ask you, dear Singaporeans, now that the election is over, to stand together so we can focus on our core priorities to ensure Singapore remains a great home for everyone.

Dear Singaporeans, no one person or persons can achieve this task. We need every Singaporean to stand shoulder to shoulder to achieve for ourselves the best that we can be. We have not reached the peak yet...The best is yet to come. But the best can be achieved only if we work together so that we can go on improving our lives and those of our children.

I ask that you focus on the similarities we have and not on our differences.

In 1965, when we became independent, no one thought that we could survive. But look at us today. We are Singaporeans, we are in a country that we are really proud of. We have come a long way, but we have an equally long way ahead of us.

No one owes us a living. We owe it to ourselves to build a great nation that we can all be proud of and which we can hand over to our children and grandchildren with great pride. We must stay united. We must beat with one heart. We must move in one direction.

I am deeply humbled to be given this opportunity to serve all of you. I look forward to working very closely with you, and I believe we can do good together, and I invite you to do good together with me.

Thank you very much.

PRESIDENT-ELECT HALIMAH YACOB, in her acceptance speech at the nomination centre yesterday.

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."

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