Is Singapore turning into Pakistan with its uncontested and undemocratic election of Halima Yacob?

Published: September 15, 2017
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Singapore's President-elect Halimah Yacob and her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee address supporters before leaving the nomination centre in Singapore September 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Halima Yacob, a former advocate of women rights, of psychological health and senior citizens, and the speaker of the Parliament of Singapore, was recently sworn in as the first female president of Singapore.

Her election may be a milestone for Singaporean women, but nothing more.

The Singaporean government curtailed the presidency criteria, which authorised Yacob as the most befitting candidate for presidency. Her selection met with social media outrage that is justified due to the fact that it was a uncontested election.

While many argue that her election symbolises diversity (the last Malay to have held the presidential post was back in 1965), most Singaporeans are still enraged over the manner in which she was elected. And rightfully so.

Given that Yacob was elected without a vote and Singapore is a democratic country, several voter rights and ethics come into consideration. Democracy is of, for and by the people and it is supposed to represent the civilians’ interests. Due to this uncontested election, Singaporeans may start questioning the legitimacy of the nation’s political ideology.

A democratic government is supposed to act on behalf of its civilians. They should have the freedom to elect a ruler who will be the most suitable in giving them a platform to voice their concerns.

Had Singaporeans been given the opportunity to go to the polls, they might have made informed decisions and selected a ruler on the basis of meritocracy and not just someone who would perpetuate political purposes. People in a democratic state have the freedom to select their ruler, but in Singapore, their voices went unheard this time around.

Democracy thrives on votes, thus electing a ruler without adequate representation indicates a gap in the nation’s political discourse. This could have implications for the future of Singapore and its foreign policy. Since the strength of the political framework of a country is determined by the choices of its people, this selection may devalue the legitimacy of future political candidates.

In a multi-ethnic society such as Singapore’s (Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians), the first 100 days after the election will prove to be crucial. During this period, it will become evident if the diverse population is ready to accept their new president or not. It remains to be seen whether this would further unite or divide the diverse ethnic fragments.

The Malay population in Singapore often faces discrimination, lack of opportunities and have low-income rates. Yacob herself comes from a poverty-stricken background and has struggled immensely. She has also been an active member of clubs that supported the helpless and vulnerable and has promised her commitment and dedication to Singaporeans.

Only time will tell whether her selection would open more doors for the downtrodden Malays or not. If it does, the 13.4% Malay population will definitely support Yacob and she could very well gain popularity through Singapore’s minorities.

Singapore’s current situation is similar to Pakistani politics where the idea of democratic governments and transitioning is nearly non-existent. There is ample evidence that illustrates that several political leaders throughout Pakistan’s 70 years of existence were not selected on the basis of merit.

Even though Singapore has witnessed its first uncontested election, unfortunately, Pakistan has been through numerous similar situations.

The Panama Papers case best represents our current political scenario. Moreover, the continuous dishonesty shown by political parties in order to win elections has weakened Pakistan’s road to a stable democracy. When the power of choice is given to the people, it can either make or break a nation and this is evident in Pakistan. Due to instability in political institutions, democracy is repeatedly devalued and power goes into the wrong hands.

Nevertheless, Pakistan’s political state of affairs is different when compared to Singapore’s politics. This is because corruption crept into Pakistani governmental and private institutions a while back, whereas in Singapore, corruption is not as rampant. This can be statistically proven as well. In a recent report, Singapore ranked seventh on the least corrupt country index 2016.

Being a developing nation in comparison to a developed country such as Singapore, Pakistan still has a long way to go in achieving progress and the status of an advanced nation. However, taking Singapore’s current situation into consideration and the way it has “elected” its new president, Singapore’s developed democratic reputation seems to be hanging by a thread.

Rida Khan

Rida Khan

The author has Master of Science in Social Sciences and Psychology research. She is a bibliophile and is interested in writing, research, learning new languages and traveling. She is also an aspiring polymath, particularly in subjects: positive, developmental and cognitive psychology, political economy, international relations and world history. She tweets @RidaK92 (twitter.com/RidaK92)

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