Photo of Halimah Yacob from Mediacorp

Despite being a PAP member for over 16 years and resigned only last week, ex-PAP MP Halimah Yacobn told state media Straits Times in an interview that she is independent of the ruling party. Halimah Yacob said that she has a “track record” to prove that even when she was a PAP MP, she “went against” the government on “several occasions”:

“I know people have that concern because of my past affiliation with the PAP. But I just want to say that the president has a duty first and foremost to Singapore and Singaporeans, and not to any party.  I have the track record to prove my independence, that whether as a unionist or parliamentarian, I had not always toed the government line.”

According to Halimah Yacob, Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave her a “displeased” look on his face when she abstained to vote for the Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA) in 2007:

“An occasion I remember clearly was when I abstained from voting on amendments to the HOTA in Parliament in 2007. Changes tabled by then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan would allow organ recipients to reimburse donors’ expenses if they wished. I was concerned that this would lead to poor people being persuaded to “sell” their organs. The party Whip was lifted, and I abstained, sending a strong signal of my misgivings. I decided not to say yes. I didn’t ask the Health Minister how he felt, but I can still remember the expression on his face.”

However Halimah Yacobn did not explain why she did not vote against the HOTA in 2007 to express her “strong misgivings”. Halimah Yacon then compared herself with former President Ong Teng Cheong, claiming that she can oppose the government like the former President did:

“Former president Ong Teng Cheong was a PAP politician-turned-president, but few would describe him as a president that really only toed the line of the Government. A public disagreement surfaced between Mr Ong and the Government in 1994, when he questioned a proposed amendment to his powers without his consent. He asked for a court ruling on the matter, and in 1995, a special tribunal of High Court judges backed the Government. So, it is not so much a question about your affiliation, but it is a question of how you exercise the responsibilities given to you.”

Halimah Yacob told the state media reporter that she would “set the tone for society”, but did not explain how can this be done:

“If elected, I hope to set the tone for society. The president may not have executive powers, but can help shape society through initiatives or speeches. Under the Constitution, the president has powers to veto appointments to key public service posts and is a custodian of the reserves and a unifying symbol. It is not a role where I can say, ‘I allocate resources to education’. I won’t have that power. I can’t make policies, I can’t make laws. One role is not often articulated – the president can set the tone for society as a whole, and I want to build a society that is progressive, inclusive, caring and compassionate.”

The PAP-endorsed Presidential candidate said she aspires to be like the incumbent president Tony Tan:

“President S R Nathan, who set up the President’s Challenge, galvanised people to come together to raise funds for charity. President Tony Tan Keng Yam continued this. That is the kind of tone that can be set by the president, regardless of whether you have power to make policies.”