Anger in Singapore as no election for president

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 12 2017 10:43 PM

Halimah Yacob, former speaker of Singapore's parliament, will avoid an election originally slated for September 23, as others hoping to run against her were judged by authorities not to have met strict eligibility criteria. Edgar Su, Reuters

Singaporeans Tuesday poured scorn on the process to select their new president after an establishment figure was deemed the only eligible candidate, meaning no election will be held.

Halimah Yacob, a former speaker of parliament from the city-state’s Muslim Malay minority, will be the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role if — as expected — she is formally nominated to the presidency Wednesday.

But the 63-year-old will avoid an election originally slated for September 23, as others hoping to run against her were judged by authorities not to have met strict eligibility criteria.

Five people had expressed an interest in becoming president of the tightly controlled, affluent nation of about 5.5 million people.

Two were disqualified as they were not Malay — the presidency was on this occasion reserved for members of the ethnic minority — while two Malay businessmen were disqualified as their companies were too small.

“All Singaporeans are unhappy that meritocracy and electoral fairness, core Singaporean values, have been eroded to fulfil perceived political goals,” writer and political commentator Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh told AFP.

There was criticism of the process on social media, with Facebook user Hussain Shamsuddin commenting: “As a citizen of this democratic island nation, I’m deeply embarrassed.”

“Don’t call it an election if we Singaporeans can’t vote,” wrote Fazly Jijio Din on Facebook.

When asked for a response, the Singapore Elections Department referred AFP to information about the presidency.

Under election rules, potential candidates must either have served in public office, headed a government-linked organization, or headed a company worth at least $370 million in shareholder equity.

But those who do not qualify can still stand if they are approved by the six-member Presidential Elections Committee — a government-appointed group.

It is not the first time that a president has been chosen unopposed, and when there has been a vote, the establishment candidate has always won.

The president’s role is largely that of a figurehead but the head of state does have some limited powers.

It was the first time that the presidency had been reserved for a particular ethnic group, as authorities seek to foster harmony in a multicultural society dominated by ethnic Chinese.

Singapore is one of the world’s wealthiest and most stable societies but its political system is tightly controlled. The People’s Action Party has been in power since the city gained self-rule from the British in 1959.