SINGAPORE — Parliament will elect a new Speaker — the third in less than five years — at its next sitting, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Aug 7) accepted Madam Halimah Yacob’s resignation from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
Veteran Member of Parliament (MP) Charles Chong, who is one of two Deputy Speakers, will be the Acting Speaker in the meantime.
A grassroots adviser will also be appointed to take over Mdm Halimah’s duties at Marsiling-Yew Tee Group Representation Constituency (GRC), “so that residents will continue to be well-taken care of”, PM Lee said in his letter to Mdm Halimah who submitted her resignation on Monday — a day after she announced her decision at her constituency’s National Day dinner to contest the Presidential Election (PE) next month.
In his three-page letter to Mdm Halimah, Mr Lee also paid tribute to her “many contributions” in her decades of public service — as a leader in the labour movement, a Member of Parliament, a Minister of State and Speaker — and backed her to do well if she is elected as President.
“I am confident that if elected, you will do your best, as you have always done, and will bring dignity and personal warmth, experience of government and concern for the people, to the highest office in the land,” he said.
Mr Lee pointed out that in all her roles in public service, Mdm Halimah’s focus was on the rank and file and the underprivileged. “You were a consistent and fearless voice in the unions, the Parliament and the Government, pushing us all to build a more equitable society,” he said.
Mdm Halimah was appointed Speaker in January 2013, a month after Mr Michael Palmer resigned in the wake of an extra-marital affair. As Prime Minister, Mr Lee will nominate a new Speaker to be elected by the House, when Parliament convenes on a date yet to be fixed.
Mdm Halimah was first elected to Parliament in 2001 as an MP for Jurong GRC, making her the first female Malay MP since independence, Mr Lee noted.
As an “active backbencher”, Mdm Halimah spoke from her conscience, championing cost of living issues, affordable healthcare and fair employment, Mr Lee said. In 2011, she was appointed Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports.
Apart from the “human touch” she added to Government policies, Mr Lee said she also held an independent view and was not afraid to argue her case in Cabinet, “often causing us to rethink our positions”.
When she became the ninth Speaker of Parliament in 2013, she “presided over Parliament sittings with dignity and a sure touch”, Mr Lee added.
He also noted that Mdm Halimah had a “good sense of people”, and was “shrewd in judging characters and motives”. That was why she was on the committee tasked to interview potential PAP candidates, he said.
Mdm Halimah started her career as a legal officer at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and worked her way up to become NTUC’s deputy secretary-general.
Mr Lee said her commitment to workers’ welfare was “internationally recognised”. She was the first Singaporean elected to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1999. Mr Lee revealed that Ambassador Tommy Koh had told him that she was urged by many ILO members to run for the post of ILO director-general, but she decided that her calling was in Singapore. Mdm Halimah’s “good work and personal diplomacy at the ILO earned Singapore respect” for its model of tripartism, and the country’s stable and constructive labour relations, Mr Lee said.
Mr Lee described Mdm Halimah as “a leader and role model” in the Malay/Muslim community, where her work included mentoring community leaders at self-help group Mendaki to promote employment and employability, as well as helping to set up a training and job placement framework for women who wish to return to work.
Mr Lee noted that Mdm Halimah had discussed with him her plans to stand in the coming polls, which will be reserved for Malay candidates. He had told her that it was “a major decision that was (hers) to make”, but encouraged her to consider it seriously. “Having worked with you for many years, I knew your passion to serve and your commitment to Singapore. Now that you have decided, I wish you all the best,” he added.