SINGAPORE — President-elect Halimah Yacob’s rise to the highest office of the land caps a remarkable journey from her humble beginnings.
The youngest of five children, Madam Halimah lost her father, a watchman, when she was eight. Her mother became the sole breadwinner of the family and worked at a food stall. At age 10, she became her mother’s assistant, spending hours after school washing dishes, clearing tables and serving customers at the stall.
She studied at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School in the late 1960s — one of the few Malay girls who did then — before moving on to Tanjong Katong Girls’ School for her pre-university education.
She chose to study law at the University of Singapore, where she met her businessman husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, who was a physics major at the university. They married in 1980 and have five children, aged 26 to 35.
After graduating in 1978, Mdm Halimah joined the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) as a legal officer.
She eventually rose to become NTUC’s deputy secretary-general and held various posts, such as the director of the Singapore Institute of Labour Studies, and director of Legal Services and Women’s Development. She also served four terms as the deputy member of the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation.
After spending more than 30 years as a trade unionist, Mdm Halimah entered politics in 2001 at the invitation of then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, and was elected as a Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC in the General Election that year.
A decade later, she was appointed Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports.
In 2013, she became the first woman to be elected Speaker of Parliament and held that position until last month, when she resigned to contest in the Presidential Election. She also stepped down as Member of Parliament for Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, and as a member of the People’s Action Party’s central executive committee.
On Monday, Mdm Halimah, 63, emerged as the only one among three presidential hopefuls to be issued both the Certificate of Eligibility and a Malay Community Certificate.
Yesterday, after Mdm Halimah submitted all her documents on Nomination Day at the People’s Association headquarters at King George’s Avenue, Returning Officer Ng Wai Choong declared her the President-elect. She will be sworn in as the Republic’s eighth President today.
Mdm Halimah will be Singapore’s first Malay President in 47 years, and also the first woman in Singapore to occupy the office.
President Yusof Ishak was Singapore’s first President and the only Malay to have held the office till he died in 1970. Siau Ming En