A look back at President Halimah Yacob’s time in office

Some of her iconic moments include becoming the first head of state to stay in public housing and calling out misogynistic remarks by local podcasters.

Fitri Mahad

Probably the only person that likes to hear the koels go ‘uwu’.

Published: 29 May 2023, 3:15 PM

President Halimah Yacob will not stand for re-election, she announced in a statement on Monday (May 29) when the Presidential Election is  held in a few months’ time.

In her statement, President Halimah said that “it has been a great honour and privilege to serve as the eighth President of Singapore for the past six years”.

“The experience has been most inspiring and, at the same time, humbling,” she added.

She was the only eligible candidate in the 2017 Presidential Elections, which was reserved for the Malay community, and ran uncontested. Over the course of her six-year presidency, she oversaw Singapore’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to her presidency, she was the Speaker of Parliament, and was Member of Parliament for Marsiling, Yew Tee or Bukit Batok East at different times.

Here’s a look back at President Halimah’s time in office:

She was the only eligible candidate during the 2017 elections

In 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the upcoming Presidential election would be reserved for Malay candidates.

Mdm Halimah was elected unopposed as the other candidates were deemed ineligible. These candidates include Salleh Marican, founder and chief executive of Second Chance Properties, and Farid Khan, chief executive of regional marine services firm Bourbon Offshore Asia.

The Elections Department Singapore (ELD) deemed Mr Salleh and Mr Marican ineligible as their companies did not meet the required minimum amount of having $500 million in shareholders’ equity over a three-year period before the elections.


Farid Khan is the father of former Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/FARIDKHANSINGAPORE


Two other candidates – private-hire driver Shirwin Eu and private tutor Ooi Boon Ewe –  who made headlines for their obvious racial differences and seemingly lack of qualifications were disqualified for obvious reasons.

She initially chose to stay in her Yishun residence

The Istana is known as the President’s official residence, closed to the public except during special occasions and holidays.

However, the then newly sworn-in President Halimah Yacob chose to continue residing in her jumbo HDB flat located in Yishun, becoming the first head of state to live in public housing while in office.


Halimah Yacob was sworn in at the Istana on Sep 14, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/HALIMAH YACOB


This move (or lack thereof) saw a heightened security presence: More policemen were deployed on patrol and a white awning was set up for reserved police vehicles at the foot of her HDB block.

The decision to stay in her Yishun flat drew mixed reactions. While some praised her for being down to earth, others felt it created a “nuisance for neighbours” because of the heightened security presence.

President Halimah Yacob eventually moved out after she was informed of the security challenges by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Criticised misogynistic remarks by a local podcast, advocated caning for rapists above 50

In her statement about not standing for re-election, Mdm Halimah said that when she took office in 2017, her aim was to help create a more caring and compassionate society.

“I was supported by many Singaporeans who shared strongly in this belief. Working together, we strengthened the voices of our communities and uplifted those who are most in need, particularly the disadvantaged and vulnerable among us,” she added.

The President certainly did not hold back when expressing her views about women advocacy or clamping down on misogynistic remarks throughout her term.

In a Facebook post late last year, she expressed her disgust and disdain towards the spate of cases involving rapes of children in their own homes by their male relatives.

President Halimah underscored the need to better protect children from sexual predators, and pointed out how severe punishments for convicted offenders are important but insufficient by itself.

“It’s ironic that they could escape from the pain caused by caning despite the lifetime of severe trauma and irreparable damage that they cruelly inflicted on their victims which will last a lifetime,” she said.

She added that in some cases, rapes were committed earlier but reported only after the perpetrator reached 50 years old.


By law, caning is not administered to persons who are 50 years old and above. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTHOPIA/SARAH ALYSHA


In 2020, hosts of local podcast OkLetsGo came under fire by the President for their “offensive, humiliating and misogynistic remarks” across various podcast episodes.

Similarly posting on her Facebook page, President Halimah Yacob highlighted the responsibility of educating young minds to “develop healthy and respectful relationships with women” is shared by all, especially “those who have great influence over people through social media.”

She went on: “Taking cheap pot shots at women to boost ratings or to make some people laugh no matter how offensive, cannot be justified under any label be it freedom of speech or encouraging conversations”.


OkLetsGo was founded by former Mediacorp radio station RIA DJs (from left to right) Dzar Ismail, Dyn Noorahim and Raja Razie. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/OKLETSGO


Mdm Halimah called for the hosts – who initially defended themselves – to apologise for their remarks. She said she had received “so many emails from very concerned people” who also worry about the “kind of values that are being promoted among the young”, and feels their concerns to be justified.

“Our women in Singapore have worked very hard to raise their status through education, employment and in raising healthy families. They are important in building healthy communities which will be undermined by such podcasts,” she said.

Worked with the Government to spare no effort to combat COVID-19

Pulling from the nation’s reserves, especially in dire situations, is not an uncommon move for a President to do.

In Budget 2022, Mdm Halimah shared that it had been the third consecutive financial year that Singapore has drawn from their Past Reserves to battle COVID-19.

She had given her assent for the Budget, which included approving the draw of $6 billion from Past Reserves. This would fund a “multi-pronged approach to continue to support COVID-19 public health expenditure”.


President Halimah Yacob tested positive for COVID-19 in July last year. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/HALIMAH YACOB


She had her ears close to the ground, and showed recognition and gratitude to those who bore the brunt of the pandemic on the ground.

Mdm Halimah also expressed her gratitude for essential workers, those in the cleaning, security and waste management sectors, for “working quietly behind the scenes to keep Singapore running”.

She encouraged Singaporeans to show their acknowledgement and thanks through the U Care Centre’s campaign, where one can write and present a note of appreciation to essential service workers.

A pioneer in many ways

More than just becoming the first female President, Mdm Halimah is also defined by the moments throughout her career where she broke the glass ceiling.

She is the first woman Speaker of Parliament, serving from 2013 till 2017. In 2001, she was elected MP for Jurong Group Representative Constituency (GRC) – making her the first female Malay MP since Singapore’s independence. She presided over the Bukit Batok East area.

In 2014, she was inducted into the Singapore’s Women Hall of Fame, a platform aimed at recognising the “outstanding women of Singapore in all fields of endeavour”.

She is the first Singaporean to be elected to the governing body of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) in 1999, a tripartite United Nations agency that unites governments, employers and workers from 187 Member States.

They are dedicated to setting labour standards, developing policies and devising programmes promoting “decent work for all women and men”.

In 2011, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) awarded Madam  Halimah with the AWARE Heroine Award owing to her efforts in both NTUC and Parliament.

AWARE found Mdm Halimah’s leadership in NTUC crucial to supporting single mothers, lower-income women seeking employment, women rejoining the workforce, and women seeking leadership in various unions.

As an MP, she has been passionate about “raising issues that improve the lives of women”.

This included anti-discrimination measures for pregnant female employees, protecting the rights of domestic workers, as well as protection against sexual harassment, AWARE added.

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