By Mary Lee
I did a straw poll of 10 Malays at the rehabilitative hospital at Ang Mo Kio yesterday. “Are you happy our next president is a Malay woman?”
I expected a chorus of “Yes!” Two men said “No” to my surprise, another man and two women said “No comment”, a group of four well-dressed and made-up women said “Of course!” (there was a note of offence that I had asked the question), the one male patient with them said “Yes, she’s qualified” and my Grab driver said, “It doesn’t matter — they’ve fixed it.” So there was no unanimous support for her among her own race.
Why had I expected a unanimous “Yes”? Because it was the first Malay in 47 years to assume the ceremonial post. But I hadn’t seen any discussion of the most significant point of this “reserved presidency” — that the PAP government had appointed a woman as head of state.
What does this mean? That many important but “soft” issues, such as education, social welfare, women’s issues like discrimination in the workplace, caring for aged parents and special needs children may now have a champion in Madam Halimah.
In a lengthy Facebook post, activist Saleemah Ismail gave a list of issues Madam Halimah was the first PAP MP to support such as giving domestic helpers one day off a week and protection against family violence. (I can see men, Malay and non-Malay, cringing at this. They shouldn’t — women have put up too long with being second class.)
Madam Halimah should next turn her attention to healthcare workers, and ask why Singapore women have turned away from this profession. Fortunately, Filipinas, mainland Chinese and Indian women (and men) are staffing our wards.
The sight of a Muslim woman in a tudung as head of state should calm some of our neighbours, although they may not find it easy dealing with her intellect.
So what about the controversy of it being “rigged” in her favour to keep Tan Cheng Bock out of the race? He did lose by fewer votes than can be found in one block of HDB flats! Had the other two Malay candidates not been disqualified from this race, then at least those who wanted to express disapproval of the rigging could have cast spoilt votes. But that is not to be and Singaporeans, being pragmatic, should just Facebook the new President on issues she should champion. This would build up support for her candidacy in six years. time. But honestly, she wouldn’t have to do much to outshine her predecessor. Most important of all, she has opened the door for women to occupy the Istana! ##