SINGAPORE: Halimah Yacob is now Singapore's president-elect, after submitting her paperwork for the presidential election on Wednesday.
The People's Association Headquarters in Jalan Besar, the designated nomination centre for the election, was a sea of orange as about 1,000 unionists, residents and supporters dressed in her campaign colour gathered to support her in her journey to becoming Singapore's first Malay president in 47 years, and first woman president.
They broke into loud cheers, clapped and waved flags as returning officer Ng Wai Choong declared her the president-elect in a walkover.
"As Madam Halimah Yacob is the only candidate, I declare Madam Halimah Yacob as the candidate elected to the Office of President of the Republic of Singapore," he said.
The procedure brought to a close Singapore's first election reserved for candidates from the Malay community, following constitutional changes that ensure the presidency reflects Singapore's multiracial society.
Addressing her supporters and all Singaporeans in a short speech, Halimah said: "Although this is a reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I am a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans, my duty remains only to you."
Speaking in both English and Malay, Halimah also said her election showed "very positively how Singapore practises multiracialism".
"I stand before you as the second Malay president in 47 years of our history. I believe that this is a proud moment for Singapore, for multiculturalism and multiracialism in our society. This shows that multiracialism is not just a slogan, something good for us to say or hear. It means it really works in our society that everyone has the chance to (make it to) the highest office of the land," she said.
She also spoke about being Singapore's first woman president: "It shows that this is not just tokenism, that when we talk about gender diversity we are not just chanting slogans, we really mean it. Every woman can aspire to the highest office of the land if you have the courage, determination and the will to work hard."
Thanking Singaporeans for their encouragement and support since she announced her presidential bid in August, Halimah said it was now time to stand together to focus on making Singapore a great home for everyone, now that the election was over.
"Dear Singaporeans, no one person or persons can achieve this task. We need every one Singaporean to stand together shoulder-to-shoulder to achieve for ourselves the best that we can be. We have not reached the peak yet.
"You think we have reached the peak? We have not reached the peak yet. The best is yet to come. But the best can only be achieved if we work together so that we can go on improving our lives and that of our children," she said.
She added: "I ask that you focus on the similarities we have and not on our differences."
After her speech, supporters chanted her name. Banners were also unfurled with messages congratulating "President Halimah Yacob", though she will be sworn in as Singapore's eighth president on Thursday.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement: "The eighth President of Singapore, Madam Halimah Yacob, will be sworn in during the inauguration which will be held on Thursday, 14 September 2017, at 6 pm, at the Istana."
Madam Halimah, 63, was the only presidential hopeful who was given the green light to stand for the office, having held the key government post of Speaker of Parliament since 2013.
Earlier, as she made her way to the nomination centre from the NTUC Centre, flanked by members of her campaign team and accompanied by her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, 63, she said to reporters: "I'm feeling good. I'm looking forward to making sure that my nomination is accepted. That's the most important."
Mohamed Abdullah, a retired businessman, asked if he was proud of his wife, said: "Of course!"
Some 800 supporters who had gathered at the nomination centre, some since 9.30am, cheered as she arrived and made her way to the hall with her proposer, Singapore Business Federation chairman and former Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng, seconder, PPIS (Singapore Muslim Women's Association) chief executive officer Mohd Ali Mahmood, and eight assentors.
Like Halimah, many in the group were dressed in orange - a colour she chose for her campaign as it represents unity.
Among the supporters were many unionists, including 50 members of the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries, had arrived at 9.30am, half an hour before the nomination centre opened, armed with banners, whistles and clappers.
Halimah was the union's executive secretary from 2004 to 2011 and is still its adviser.
The NTUC Centre downtown was her first stop after leaving her Yishun family flat on Wednesday.
Halimah, who started her public service career at the National Trades Union Congress as a legal officer in 1978, had gone there to meet up with key members of her team.
They include NTUC president Mary Liew and veteran unionist G. Muthukumarasamy.
When Halimah left the NTUC in 2011 to run for the general election, she had risen through the ranks of the labour movement to become its deputy secretary-general, gaining a reputation as a tireless champion of workers' rights.
The NTUC had thrown its weight behind her presidential bid, and unionists and bigwigs from the labour union were out in full force to stand by "Sister Halimah".
Also at the nomination centre were residents and grassroots leaders from her former wards of Bukit Batok East and Marsiling, where she was MP for the past 16 years, who made their way across the island to wish her well.
Singaporean Vincent Teo, 71, said he wanted to show his support for Halimah as she had done a lot for the poor and needy. He had with him a bunch of orange gerberas, as he said the flowers were "bright" like Halimah.
"I hope she will bring brightness and cheer to Singapore and Singapore will continue to grow and prosper with her as President. She's very down to earth," he said.
Marmon Kamat, in her 70s, had known Halimah through voluntary welfare organisation Ain Society, where Halimah is an adviser. The wheelchair user was at the nomination centre with her husband Atan Ibrahim.
She said: "I came to support her because I'm really happy there will be a Malay woman president. "
Halimah had resigned from politics in August, stepping down from the People's Action Party and as Speaker and MP, to contest the presidential election.
When she was declared the only candidate eligible to run in the election on Monday, she had said: "Whether there is an election or no election, my passion and commitment to serve the people of Singapore remains the same."
The uncontested election drew criticism from some Singaporeans, who went online to express disappointment and frustration that they would not get to vote.
Two other presidential hopefuls - marine services firm chairman Farid Khan, 61, and property company chief executive Salleh Marican, 67 - did not get a certificate of eligibility from the Presidential Elections Committee, tasked to evaluate candidates, and have dropped out of the race.
Neither had run a company with $500 million in shareholder equity for the most recent three years, a key threshold required for candidates relying on their private-sector experience.
After Halimah's walkover victory, Salleh said: "This has been a divisive run-up to the nomination for the President. I hope Madam Halimah will heal the wounds. Given her experience and background, I believe she will be the unifying President." - The Straits Times/Asia News Network
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