Halimah Yacob, 63, announced her bid to be the next president of Singapore earlier this month, before resigning from her roles as Speaker and Member of Parliament.
If all goes well, she will be the first female president of the city-state, which is currently home to 5.6 million people.
Yacob, who says that her one and only objective is to serve the people of Singapore, comes from a tough background.
In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, she described herself as a “ponteng queen” for having skipped too many classes back in the day, and almost getting kicked out when she was in secondary school.
But Yacob, who lost her father at age 8, took frequent absences to help her mother at a relative’s food stall to make ends meet.
“I never turned up for school for long periods and finally I had to be marched to the principal’s office where she told me, ‘Girl, if you keep not coming to school, I have to kick you out of school.’ That was the final ultimatum,” she told the outlet. “That was one of the worst moments of my life. But I told myself, ‘Stop wallowing in self-pity, pick yourself up and move on.’”
The presidential hopeful had not thought of entering politics at the time, when all she wanted was to finish her education and get a job. She was determined to support herself and her mother.
However, it was experiencing life’s challenges from an early age that helped her empathize with the needy.
“Hardship should never be a deterrent. I think probably if my life had been a lot easier, I would not be where I am. But because my life was tough, that’s why I learnt so many things, I learnt to survive,” Yacob said.
Yacob made her way into politics in 2001, and 10 years later was appointed as Singapore’s Minister of State. She then became the country’s first female Speaker of Parliament in 2013.
While she automatically qualifies for presidency after serving as Speaker of Parliament for over three years, her decision to run for the position was partly influenced by many supporters.
Women, in particular, are happy at the prospect of Singapore having its first female president.
“If the unintended consequence is that it helps to inspire, motivate women, particularly young women, then I’d be very grateful. Even now I get a lot of very young girls come up to me, schoolgirls even, to take photos. They say they feel very inspired,” Yacob said. “So I feel if that is one of the aspects of having a female as a President, then that’s really something good. But as I said, people should look at not the gender, but the person and see what the person can contribute.”
After unveiling her campaign slogan “Do Good Do Together,” she submitted her application for land’s highest position on Wednesday, The Straits Times reported.
Yacob faces two other hopefuls, Second Chance Properties chief executive Salleh Marican, 67, and Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62. As private-sector candidates, both do not immediately qualify as their companies must have an average of at least $500 million in shareholder equity over the last three years.
It must be noted that the election is reserved for Singapore’s Malay community, which did not have a president for 47 years.
On September 13, the public will learn whether the presidency will be determined by an election or a walkover — that is, if only one qualifies on the date. If the latter is not possible, an election proceeds on September 23.