LAST_UPDATESat, 21 Jul 2018 9pm

Who Is Halimah Yacob, Singapore's First Female President?

Pic: CNAPic: CNA

This 63-year-old Malay woman has just made history, after she was declared the President-elect of Singapore republic earlier today.

“I am a President for everyone. Even though this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved President," she told supporters of People's Association after her nomination was confirmed by Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong, chief executive of the Energy Market Authority, who declared her President-elect, Channel News Asia (CNA) reports.

In one step, Halimah has entered into the history books as Singapore's first female President and the first Malay head of state in 47 years.

However, this woman has been breaking barriers even before she stepped into the spotlight as Singapore's first Malay woman president.

In 2013, she quietly made history as the first female Speaker in Parliament and has the credentials to show that she is qualified for the job.

According to an earlier interview with CNA, the trailblazer had an early rocky start when her frequent absentism from classes led her to be labelled 'ponteng queen' and nearly being kicked out of Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.

Halimah revealed her reason for skipping classes was to help her mother at a food stall to support the family. Halimah's father had passed away while she was only eight years old leaving her mother as the sole breadwinner for five children.

"From the age of 10, my hours outside of school were spent being my mother's assistant: cleaning, washing, clearing tables and serving customers, and I am a better person for it," Halimah wrote about her hard childhood in a self-penned biography on her website.

Pic: CNAPic: CNA

"I have experienced poverty firsthand and know how debilitating it can be as you struggle to survive, to put food on the table and also grapple with the uncertainty of the future on a daily basis," she recounted how her personal experience allows her to connect with people from all walks of life as an elected Member of Parliament.

“Hardship should never be a deterrent. I think probably if my life had been a lot easier, I would not be where I am,” Halimah added.

“But because my life was tough, that's why I learnt so many things, I learnt to survive.”

Halimah succeeded in pulling through schooling despite the odds and went on to Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, eventually graduating from the University of Singapore with a law degree. She later obtained her Master of Laws at the National University of Singapore.

Her early forays into public office was in the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) in the 1970s, eventually rising in the ranks to become NTUC's deputy secretary-general.

Halimah credits then-Prime Minister Goh Chok for giving her the intial push to enter politics in 2001 and soon was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Ten years later she earned a cabinet post, being named Minister of State for the then-Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and soon rose quickly in the ranks to become Speaker of Parliament.

She told CNA that the decision to run for the nation's highest office did not happen overnight.

“I spoke to my husband first because I really had to get his understanding - most important part of the family. So after some discussion, he said he would support me,” Halimah revealed.


Her husband, Mohamed Abdullah was her university sweetheart whom she married in 1980. Halimah also discussed the big step with her children before going public on the decision to run for president.

Halimah asserts that her long career in politics will help in her role as President.

“You need to understand policy-making, to understand how to exercise that function as Elected President, if I am elected to that post,” Halimah highlighted.

“My motto has always been very simple. That is, I do my best, I work really hard and I see how I can add value and contribute,” she commented on her historic appointment to represent the predominantly Chinese population in the island state.

Singapore's population comprises of 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian and 3.2% "Others", CNN reports.

The country's first president, Yusof Ishak was the last Malay president and served as head of state from 1965 to 1970. Past Singaporean presidents include those of Eurasian, Chinese and Indian origin.

Given her meteoric rise to the top of Singaporean politics, Halimah has chosen to stay true to her roots as a child of a working class background. She still calls a public housing flat home, the subsidised people's housing scheme operated by Singapore's Housing Development Board (HDB).

Pic: Straits TimesPic: Straits Times

She might be Singapore's first female president but she told reporters that she will continue living in her HDB flat as her aim is to serve the people.

"I'm still staying in Yishun," Halimah confirmed.

“I think that would be great if I could help other people. Really tremendous.”

- mD