How foreign media covered S’pore’s first reserved Presidential Election

Fair or not, you decide.

By Chan Cheow Pong | September 13, 2017

As Singaporeans got around digesting the fact that our first reserved Presidential Election ended without really getting off the starting blocks, news of Singapore getting its first female Malay President had already travelled around the world.

Photo by Martino Tan

Various foreign media had reported on news of President-elect Halimah Yacob getting her Certificate of Eligibility and becoming the sole candidate of the election, and followed through with other reports, mostly framing the whole event with a critical lens.

Since you may be getting your information mainly from local mainstream media, we’ve collate some of these reports from foreign sources for you to get a sense of how the reserved election is perceived beyond our shores — they are somewhat refreshing alternative view points you don’t read from our mainstream media.

“Singapore names first woman president, raising eyebrows over election process” (Reuters, Sept. 13)

The report said critics were “dismayed” that other candidates were disqualified and the election went uncontested.

Curiously, unlike the vigorous defence that had been put up domestically by the government, the report quoted the Prime Minister’s Office saying that “it had no comment on criticism of the election process.”

Halimah Yacob named Singapore’s first Malay president (Al Jazeera, Sept. 13)

The summary below the headline says it all: Halimah Yacob’s “walkover” election draws public criticism due to perceived lack of democratic process in city-state.

It also reminded readers:

It was not the first time in the affluent city-state – which is tightly controlled and has been ruled by the same political party for decades – that the government has disqualified candidates for the presidency, making an election unnecessary.

“Singapore’s First Female President Will Be A Hijab-Wearing Muslim Woman” (Huffington Post, Sept. 12)

Most reports locally did not focus on Halimah’s image as a tudung (or hijab) wearing Muslim woman, but Huffington Post‘s report highlighted that aspect of her identity to readers around the world.

Photo by Chan Cheow Pong

“Singapore Has a New President, No Election Needed” (The New York Times, Sept. 12)

The report written in a critical style also focused on the lack of a contest.

“But what could have been a notable milestone for Singapore’s democracy is instead being publicly questioned as a rigged process, and her legitimacy is already coming under fire.

While Singapore’s constitution does, in fact, provide for voters to elect their president, the government established such narrow criteria for the candidates that only Ms Halimah made the cut.”

“Singaporeans miffed by ‘reserved’ presidential election” (Nikkei Asian Review, Sept. 12)

The report focused on the dissatisfaction on social media as only Halimah Yacob has been approved to run for president, thereby making a ballot unnecessary.

It said that the realisation that voter participation would not be required had “sparked a Twitter storm” that included the hashtag #notmypresident. And some had said fundamental national principles had been trampled.

“Anger in Singapore as no election for president” (Agence France-Presse, Sept. 12)

Describing Singapore as a “tightly-controlled, affluent nation of about 5.5 million people”, the report said Singaporeans “poured scorn” on the process to select their new president after Halimah was deemed the only eligible candidate, meaning no election will be held.

It also reported on criticism of the process on social media and pointed out that this is not the first time that a president has been chosen unopposed, and when there has been a vote, the establishment candidate has always won.

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About Chan Cheow Pong

It took Cheow Pong two decades to recover from the trauma of memorising General Paper essays before he was ready to be an English writer. In between affliction and recovery, he thoroughly enjoyed his time writing in Chinese and doing Chinese translations.

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