In her six years in office, Madam Halimah Yacob, 68, has championed social causes and spoken up for vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities or older workers. Here are five points to note about her presidency:
1. A president of “firsts”
As the nation’s eighth and first female president, Madam Halimah has been vocal about gender equality, as seen, for example, when she spoke out in support of the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development released by the Government in 2022. She has also spoken at various forums such as the Women’s Forum Global Meeting.
Madam Halimah is also the first Malay president since Mr Yusof Ishak, who held the post from 1965 to 1970, and the first head of state to live in public housing while in office.
After being declared president on Sept 13, 2017, she continued to live in her Yishun flat, and had earlier told reporters she intended to live there during her term.
However, due to security challenges, she moved out subsequently, though not to the Istana.
2. Outspoken on social issues
Apart from championing gender equality, Madam Halimah has spoken her mind on various social issues, such as the need to protect older workers.
In October 2022, she said any changes to the law on retirement and re-employment should not remove protections for older workers from being dismissed on account of their age.
She also spoke up for victims when she called for a review of the law that allows men over 50 years of age to avoid the cane, in December the same year.
In a Facebook post then, she said: “Rapists should not be spared the cane just because they are 50 years old. 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.”
3. Promoting interfaith harmony
Madam Halimah has long been a strong proponent of building interfaith relationships and encouraging multicultural dialogue.
In 2019, she mooted the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Over the years, it has brought people together to discuss topics such as faith, identity and cohesion.
In June 2021, following a spate of incidents of racism, Madam Halimah penned a long Facebook post, asking if the “agonising” incidents of hatred and chauvinism were one-off or reflective of a larger problem.
“Such displays are so hurtful because we thought that we had done so much to protect our cohesion until we are shaken from our belief. Our greatest fear is how such prejudice will affect our young and influence their minds,” she said then.
4. Shining a light on the social sector
Under her watch, the President’s Challenge has focused on empowering people with disabilities, building a digitally inclusive society and supporting caregivers, among other causes.
Her weekly schedule is packed with visits to various social service agencies, non-profit organisations as well as companies that promote the causes she supports.
In 2018, Madam Halimah launched the Empowering for Life Fund under the President’s Challenge to help disadvantaged groups change their circumstances and bring about more sustained changes to their lives.
Madam Halimah is also a strong supporter of The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award, given annually to a Singaporean individual or group that had made an impact in society.
She has attended every award ceremony since it started in 2015, and allowed the Istana to be used as a venue several times.
5. Making the Istana more accessible
In 2017, before her swearing-in ceremony, Madam Halimah said making the Istana more accessible was one of the items at the top of her agenda.
A few months later, a new Picnic@Istana series, meant to be held four times a year, was kick-started as part of her efforts to do so.
She also mooted the idea of an Inclusive Garden, opened in 2021, to cater to a wide range of visitors, including the elderly in wheelchairs and people with disabilities.
The garden has wheelchair-friendly footpaths and sensory-stimulating plant varieties, among other features.
In May 2022, an animation of a children’s book about the Istana was also released to get more children interested in the history of the place.
Text: The New Paper