05/29/2023, 16.57
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With incumbent President Yacob not running, the race is on to replace her

In 2017 she was the only candidate deemed suitable by the Elections Committee. This year's election must be completed by 13 September. Analysts warn that it may not be competitive, which might undermine citizens' confidence in the office.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – Singapore’s President Halimah Yacob is not seeking re-election.

"In a few months’ time, the presidential election will be held. After very careful consideration, I have decided not to stand for re-election,” she said.

“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.

Halimah Yacob was elected in 2017 without a real election campaign. Thanks to a constitutional amendment that came into force the previous year, the office had to be held by a candidate from Singapore’s Malay minority after five terms by Sino-Singaporeans.

The government passed the amendment to increase inclusiveness. The Presidential Elections Committee deemed Yacob suitable for the post, while rejecting four other candidates.

Singapore is a multiracial, multi-religious and multilingual city-state with a population of more than 4 million people; most are ethnic Chinese, followed by Malays, Indians and Eurasians.

Halimah Yacob, 68, entered politics in 2001 and served as an MP for several years, then as a minister, and finally as Speaker of Parliament in 2013, the first woman to hold that position.

“I have been most fortunate to be given the chance to serve all Singaporeans regardless of race, language or social standing as the President of Singapore,” she said today.

Under Singapore’s constitution, the president plays a largely ceremonial and representative role, but can veto spending bills or government requests to draw on past reserves, and makes key appointments in the public service.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Halimah Yacob approved the use of past reserves up to S$ 52 billion (US$ 38.4 billion) in the 2020 financial year, 11 billion in 2021 and 6 billion in 2022.

The president is also the patron of various charities and supports many causes, such as the President’s Challenge, an annual nationwide fundraiser to promote volunteer activities.

In her speech today, Yacob stressed that when she took office, her aim was to “create a more caring and compassionate society."

The new president is set to be elected by 13 September. Banyan Tree Holdings executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping and former Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan are among the potential candidates, according to the local newspaper The Straits Times.

Lee Hsien Yang, the youngest son of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, also said that he is considering a run. His family and the People's Action Party have dominated the country’s politics since 1959.

According to the constitution, candidates must have served as ministers, chief justice, or permanent secretary for at least three years.

Those coming from the private sector must have served for at least three years as chief executive of a company with a net worth of S$ 500 million and generated after-tax profits for the same period.

Analysts fear that such criteria could deter a number of candidates, and uncompetitive elections could erode citizens' trust in the presidency.

The lack of trust "makes it more difficult for the president to be a unifying figure," wrote journalist Han Fook Kwang recently. “It makes a big difference to be able to say: the people selected me to be their president.”

For Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, political scientist at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), “This is not about the person itself but I think a contest would definitely add to the legitimacy of both the process and the person who eventually becomes president”.

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