by Augustine Low
She seemed like a nice enough person, humble and straight talking and one among the elite to live in a HDB flat.
The chosen one, as far as the establishment was concerned, the one who could be counted on to bond with Singaporeans. So she became President.
But she became President in a way that appeared illegitimate to many.
She also had to move from her HDB dwelling to a landed property, for obvious security reasons.
The People’s President? The irony is that President Halimah Yacob has so far tuned out to be somewhat distant and disengaged when she was anything but that in the past.
Perhaps it’s the weight of the office. More likely it’s the manner of her ascension to the presidency which has taken its toll, which led to the hashtag #notmypresident.
It’s still early days. But President Halimah’s most high-profile contribution and appearance so far has mystifyingly been as ambassador and guest-of-honour for Milo Gao Kosong. She launched the beverage on June 19, making and drinking the first official cup of Milo Gao Kosong – a feat which put her in the spotlight more than any other.
What else is memorable?
“Although this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president,” she has said. It would seem that not many people agreed.
She also spent over $220,000 of donated funds for her campaign, money that seemed totally wasted when there was no election to be fought after all.
To those who point to her political affiliations and cosy ties with the establishment and government, President Halimah pledged to put the interests of the people first, citing former President Ong Teng Cheong who did not always agree with the government and established for himself the reputation of the People’s President.
It is a bizarre analogy and one would struggle to see any correlation now or in the future.
We know what happened to President Ong – after his six-year term ended, he was told the Cabinet would not support him for a second six-year term. He maintained that he did not need Cabinet to support his re-election bid, but an anguished and dispirited President Ong eventually decided not to contest against the government’s candidate S R Nathan.
What was President Ong’s “misdeed”? He ordered a report on the national reserves but was met with a stone wall, the government declaring that it would take 56 man years to produce a dollar and cents value of its assets. It led to a protracted dispute.
We may never see the likes of President Ong again. He put honour and duty before self, before friends and colleagues, even before the party which groomed him for political success and for Head of State.
As for President Halimah, she came in with the promise of being the People’s President. But surmounting the hurdle of #notmypresident appears formidable.
There is plenty of time yet but for the moment, we are in a dilemma – to feel sad or sorry, or both sad and sorry, for her.
But then there are those who say that her biggest reward is not the people’s acceptance and affection but her big fat paycheck. Who knows, they could have a point there.