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Singaporeans miffed by 'reserved' presidential election

Social media bristles with discontent as Halimah prepares to enter office unopposed

Halimah Yacob was the only candidate given a certificate of eligibility on Sept. 11 by the Elections Department of Singapore.   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singaporeans have taken to social media to express dissatisfaction that only Halimah Yacob has been approved to run for president later this month, thereby making a ballot unnecessary. 

Singapore's election department announced on Monday that Halimah, a former speaker of parliament, was the sole eligible candidate. This followed a significant amendment to the constitution earlier this year that reserves the office for a particular ethnic group if it has not been represented in the position for five consecutive terms. 

Twitter is being used to vent political frustration in Singapore.

Singapore has a dominant ethnic Chinese population with Malay, Indian, and Eurasian minorities. Halimah is a Malay, and will be the first woman to occupy the largely ceremonial position. Her duties will include promoting good bilateral ties and safeguarding the national coffers.

Ensuring equal opportunities and proper representation for all ethnicities have been keystones in establishing Singaporean national identity. The realization that voter participation would not be required sparked a Twitter storm that included the hashtag #notmypresident. Some said fundamental national principles had been trampled.

"In a country whose core values are meritocracy, regardless of race, language or religion, this stinks of hypocrisy," Darren Teo tweeted.

"It would have been a significant event for [Singapore] to elect her first female president, but now the word 'elected' has lost its meaning," tweeted Huiwen Zheng. 

Activist Gilbert Goh called for a silent sit-in protest this Saturday against voterless election. "It's time to unleash that frustration by showing up with like-minded Singaporeans together as one voice," he posted on Facebook. 

Activist Gilbert Goh used Facebook to call for a protest against Singapore's uncontested presidential election.

Observers said the critical undertow was evidence of greater political awareness and sensitivity to race relations. Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies said the reactions revealed a "division of opinion on how best Singapore's defining ideals of multiracialism, meritocracy, and prudent, honest governance should be balanced."

"Those who are unhappy would have preferred the president receive an electoral mandate," she said. 

"Given that this is Singapore's first reserved election, it is a test of citizens' receptivity towards institutionalized means of ensuring minority representation," said Woo Jun Jie, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University. 

Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, noted signs of "a more engaged citizenry who are less enthused by the government's views of race relations."

"Singapore is not post-racial yet, but the idea that we will set aside multiracialism and meritocracy when it comes to voting is not well-received," he said. 

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