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No election President

September 13, 2017 | Expert Insights

Halimah Yacob, the former Speaker of the Parliament in Singapore will be the nation’s first female President.

However, critics have voiced opposition over the fact she has won the Presidency through default and not through an election.


The President of the Republic of Singapore is the nation’s head of state. Similar to countries like India, this is largely a ceremonial position. The real power is vested with the Prime Minister, who is the head of the government. The first President who was elected to serve in the country was Ong Teng Cheong. He served from September 1993 to 31 August 1999. The current President is Tony Tan, who has served since 2011.

In November 2017, the government announced that there will be changes in the way the Presidential elections will be held. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the position for the next President will be reserved for candidates from the Malay community. He said that the decision was made to ensure representation. He noted, “That means if a qualified Malay candidate steps up to run, Singapore will have a Malay president again... this would be our first after more than 46 years, since our first president Encik Yusof Ishak.” The government has also instated other rules that have made qualifying to run for the Presidency even harder.


Apart from Yacob, the two other candidates part of the Malay community that had submitted their forms to stand for the election were Mohamed Salleh Marican and Farid Khan. One of the new rules dictates that if a person works in the private sector, then they are required to be a Chief Executive of a company, with at least $370 million in shareholders' equity. Marican and Khan were disqualified on this basis.

Farid said, “They recognized that I am in a position of seniority in the company, but the company itself did not fulfil the S$500 million (requirement). What they say is correct about the S$500 million, because I've never said I've got S$500 million.”

Halimah Yacob is a former Speaker of Parliament. As she has been the only candidate to be declared eligible, she has won the Presidency through default. She will become the nation’s first female President.

Yacob reacted to the news noting, “Although this is a reserved election, I‘m not a reserved president. I‘m a president for everyone. I can only say that I promise to do the best that I can to serve the people of Singapore and that doesn't change whether there is an election or no election.”

The results of the election have been criticized by some experts. Sudhir Vadaketh, a Singapore author and commentator, told CNN, “The only beneficiaries from this reserved presidential election are Halimah Yacob and her team, as well as Singapore's opposition, which now has a new line of attack against the PAP (People's Action Party). The rest of Singapore has suffered. All Singaporeans are unhappy that meritocracy and electoral fairness, core Singaporean values, have been eroded to fulfill perceived political goals.”


Our assessment is that Yacob’s victory is quite symbolic as she’s the first woman President in a country that’s traditionally dominated by the Chinese.  While the position of the President is titular with limited power such inclusiveness bodes well for Singapore, which recently had to face ethnic issues.