SINGAPORE — In September 2017, Halimah Yacob was named the first female President of Singapore. She assumed the role after other candidates from the private sector failed to qualify for the election process.
Some critics say that the lack of an actual election is unfair and undemocratic. Singapore’s election department stated that only one certificate of eligibility had been awarded to Yacob for her previous years of public service. Both candidates Mohamed Salleh Marican and Farid Khan fell short of the private sector requirements of leading a company with more than $500 million in shareholder equity.
Additional requirements for the office of president were also in place for this election. Racially, the new president must have been of Malay descent. Malays are the largest minority group in the Chinese majority Singapore.
President Yacob reassured critics in a statement after the no contest: “Although there’s no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same.” Her years of public service would seem to back up that statement.
Yacob’s first job after law school was as part of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC). She quickly climbed to be the director.
In 1999, Yacob began her decade-long tenure within the International Labor Organization (ILO). One of her crowning accomplishments was helping to propose conventions to protect domestic workers, an overwhelming number of whom are women and were previously overlooked by many social and labor protections.
After being elected to the Singapore parliament, the global recession in 2008 presented Yacob with a particularly trying experience. As unemployment in Singapore rose, Yacob helped in the creation of programs designed to help workers land on their feet, through various skill training programs.
During her years as the director of the NTUC, Yacob also served at the Women’s Development Secretariat. There, Yacob was responsible for the development and implementation of programs designed to assist women trying to enter the workforce.
One assistance program for which Yacob fought was the Medishield, a government-run health insurance program. Parallel to her work on the ILO, the insurance was to the great benefit of working women and housewives who were usually passed over.
Yacob started in politics in 2001 as a member of People’s Action Party. In 16 years she’s climbed the party ranks to finally be sworn into the office of President of Singapore.
While her “victory” may leave a sour taste in the mouths of many Singaporean’s who didn’t get the chance to vote in an election, it doesn’t appear that there are any drastic changes on the horizon. The People’s Action Party has been the ruling party for decades now.
The office of President of Singapore is technically a head of state, and less involved than the office of Prime Minister. Expect Yacob to use her platform to promote the advancement of women in the workplace and workers left behind in a fast-paced business world.
– Thomas James Anania