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Getting to know Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first female president

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 15, 2017  /  05:17 pm
Getting to know Halimah Yacob, Singapore's first female president

Halimah Yacob became the Singaporean President following a walkover victory in the country's first reserved election. (Straits Times/file)

Ethnic Malay Halimah Yacob was sworn in as Singapore's eighth president on Thursday, as the inauguration marked the start of her six-year term in the Chinese-ethnic majority country.

Yacob became the head of state following a walkover victory in the country's first reserved election.

As reported by The Straits Times, the 63-year-old, who resigned from her political and party posts in August, was the only presidential hopeful declared eligible.

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Singapore's first female president

Yacob made history on Thursday as she became Singapore's first female president. She is also the city state's second ethnic Malay president since the late Yusof Ishak, who served from 1965 to 1970.

Singaporean authorities this year held a reserved election to allow only candidates from the Malay community in a bid to foster harmony and strengthen the sense of inclusivity in the multicultural country, Reuters reported.

In her acceptance speech on Wednesday, as reported by The Times, Yacob addressed doubts about the reserved election. "I'm a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone," she said. 

Illustrious career

Prior to sitting in the highest office in the city state, Yacob was the House Speaker. She was the first woman to hold the Speaker post, where she served from 2013. 

Her three-year experience in the position automatically made her eligible to run for presidency. 

Long before, however, Yacob had consistently built an illustrious career over time, where in 1978 she began work as a legal officer at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) after graduating with a law degree from the National University of Singapore. 

Yacob focused on her union work and stayed at the NTUC for 33 years, where she was eventually appointed deputy secretary-general from 2007 until 2011. She also became the first Singaporean on the governing body of the International Labor Organization (ILO), where she sat from 1999 to 2011.

She stepped down from the NTUC post in 2011, as Yacob was appointed Minister of State in the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports from 2011 to 2012, after which she moved to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, prior to becoming the House Speaker in 2013.

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Humble beginnings

While she has established a distinguished career, Yacob said she had a difficult upbringing. 

Born in Aug. 23, 1954, Yacob was the youngest of five children. Her father died of a heart attack when she was eight years old, according to The Times

Her mother sold nasi padang on push carts before obtaining a hawker stall licence, where Yacob during her high school years helped with cleaning, washing, clearing tables and serving customers.

She attended Singapore Chinese Girls' School and Tanjong Katong Girls' School, and was the only one in her family to go to university. (liz/kes)