Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob will be a front-runner for the highest office in the land if she decides to throw her hat into the ring, said political analysts interviewed by TODAY.
Citing her long record of public service, they noted that voters of all races are familiar with her credentials, while the other two presidential hopefuls would have their work cut out seeking to appeal to Singaporeans outside of their community.
Nevertheless, Mdm Halimah — who said on Sunday that she was thinking about contesting in the polls — could be disadvantaged by her ties with the ruling People’s Action Party, the analysts said, should voters look for independence from the Government in a candidate. Some, like former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng, have also questioned Mdm Halimah’s financial acumen, given that the Parliament Speaker does not have the responsibility of managing “huge billion-dollar budgets and hundreds to thousands of civil servants” like a Cabinet Minister.
Starting out as a lawyer, Mdm Halimah, 62, has spent 40 years in the public service, including over three decades in the National Trades Union Congress. Before she became Speaker of Parliament in 2013, she had served as Minister of State at the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. Dr Singh pointed out that Mdm Halimah has enjoyed solid support from her constituents since she first entered politics in 2001, winning four successive General Elections along the way.
Describing Mdm Halimah as a “warm, compassionate and humble” person who is “well-loved by her constituents”, Mr Cheng said she has also carried out her duties as Speaker of Parliament “with dignity”.
However, if Mdm Halimah — who made history as Singapore’s first female Speaker of Parliament — were “deemed to have the necessary skill-sets to guard our financial reserves”, it would “detract from the credibility of recent changes to private-sector eligibility criteria”, Mr Cheng said.
But other analysts pointed out that the Elected President would be supported by the Council of Presidential Advisers on issues relating to the country’s reserves.
“I don’t think you will have a person who will check off all the boxes. I don’t think Singaporeans envisage someone who can be the symbol of multiracialism and be a top finance person,” said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan.
On Mdm Halimah still holding her cards close to her chest, the analysts said she could be waiting to see who her potential challengers are, as well as gauging public reaction to her potential candidacy before making her decision.