President-elect Halimah Yacob’s Nomination Day was over before it started

Here are some things we observed though.

It’s all happening so fast that it’s hard to take in — on Monday, we learned that there would be no presidential election, and on Wednesday, as the only qualifying individual, Halimah Yacob was declared President-Elect of Singapore at the People’s Association (PA) headquarters.

Come tomorrow (Thursday), Halimah will be sworn in as Singapore’s eighth president — and also our first female, as well as our first elected Malay-Muslim head of state.

The hours of Wednesday morning passed as a blur for us — we were there, encountering the 300-plus supporters from various unions, women’s organisations, and residents, listening to her wave, speak and bow to them in hot sun, many shielded by bright orange umbrellas bearing her campaign H-shaped logo.

But what actually happened? It all moved by really quickly, but here’s what we stepped back and noticed:

1. Orange is the new Black

Orange is the colour of choice for most of Halimah’s supporters this hot Wednesday morning.

It also happens to be, we understand, the overall campaign colour for her — it came with orange umbrellas, polo T-shirts with silver collars and badges, all of which were emblazoned with her logo (see point 2).

We noticed some supporters were wearing white and blue tops — they were not supporting the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) or the opposition Workers’ Party though.

According to an NTUC spokesperson, an estimated number of 500 unionists from more than 45 unions pledged to turn up to support Halimah.

In other words, those decked in blue and white represented the various unions and were there to mark attendance and show their union bosses their might.

There is another layer of significance to the colour orange, though.

Orange is used by One.People.sg, the body that supports multi-racialism and strong race relations in Singapore, in their annual run. One.People.sg termed it the “Orange Ribbon Run”, a race against racism.

Maybe the first race-elected/selected/nominated President can be its guest-of-honour this year?

2. H, H, H everywhere

There are much memorabilia in circulation that were created to support Halimah in her Presidential election campaign.

There is an “H” badge, an “H” polo T shirt, an “H” umbrella,

And even tents arranged in the shape of an H:

Photo by Jeanette Tan.

One of us went up to the top of one block of flats across the street from the PA HQ to take this aerial shot and couldn’t help but notice the letter “H” too.

If Farid Khan or Salleh Marican had qualified for the election, would the PA have come up with a more neutral letter?

A friend from a Chinese language paper said that the tent formation looked like the Chinese character “工” too, which means workers or the working class in Mandarin. And we all know Halimah, who has been with the unions for three decades, is an advocate for the workers.

Much subliminal messaging from the government.

3. All that went down at the accredited-media-only doorstop

(and by all that went down, we mean not all that much. In fact, if you looked at The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia, you would have thought there were only two questions asked: the state of her health and the fact that she exercises 45 minutes a day, and her plans to continue living in her Yishun jumbo two-in-one flat.)

We were not allowed into a post-nomination day group media interview with Halimah — it was for accredited media only — but from what we observe in reports, she didn’t say anything particularly new in response to questions from reporters.

For instance, we were looking forward to hear her response to the online groundswell against her, in particular the #notmypresident hashtag. Here’s what she said:

Reporter: There have been frustrations over the reserved election and the walkover, and there’s the hashtag #notmypresident going around. How do you plan to unify Singaporeans?

Mdm Halimah: Whether there’s an election or no election, my promise is to serve everyone. And I will serve with great vigour, with a lot of hard work, with the same passion and commitment that I have served people for the last four decades.

After this election, I want to invite Singaporeans to focus on our priorities. We have a lot of challenges, domestic and international. So those should be our priorities and we need to work together.”

Focus on our priorities, okay. Nothing new from the first line either, she’s said that in response to a bunch of different questions.

Although perhaps there might be something to read from this question, a follow-up two questions later:

Reporter: Have you ever felt demoralised by the criticisms?

Mdm Halimah: You know, when you’re in public service, you focus on your goals, your objectives. And you focus on the people you want to serve. That has always been my motto. I focus on people I want to serve. I focus on how to improve their lives, whether by introducing programmes or helping them, and that will continue to be my emphasis.”

She does say a lot of times that she wants to serve everyone, though — so here’s hoping she is focusing on everyone, even the people making jokes at her expense, and those decrying her as #notmypresident.

We must admit, though, we’re still none the wiser in terms of how she plans to do that.

4. The amazing dichotomy between online and offline sentiment

“Halimah! Halimah! Halimah!”

A festive, celebratory mood filled the air at the open field.  It was clear that Halimah’s supporters had turned out in force to cheer her on, with banners, flags and whistles, as she arrived at the Nomination centre, and when she reappeared on stage to be announced as President-elect.

Judging from the overwhelmingly positive vibes on the ground, one who hasn’t been online would have not had the faintest idea of any unhappiness with the situation, apart from, well, the fact that the turnout wasn’t all that impressive, all things considered:

Although okay, we’d say about a third of the crowd was standing below the white H-shaped tents, shielding themselves from the sun. Photo by Jeanette Tan

Indeed, her detractors appear to have largely stayed away from what may seem like a coronation party, preferring to congregate online to show their disapproval with angry Facebook reactions, #NotMyPresident hashtags and snarky comments.

Photo by Martino Tan

In fact, in her acceptance speech, Halimah sounded like she does have the awareness that she has her work cut out for her to unite a divided nation, repeating and stressing the word “everyone” four times when addressing people who disagree with the reserved Presidency:

“I know that some have some doubts of the reserved election. And I want to tell you as your president-elect: I promise to work with everyone. I am president for everyone, and I intend to serve all without hesitation or doubt.

I also want to tell you that although this is an reserved election, I am not a reserved president. I’m a president for everyone, regardless of race, language, religion or creed. I represent everyone. My duty remains only to Singapore and Singaporeans. My duty remains only to you. Although there is no election, my commitment to serve you remains the same. There is no diminution even one bit of my desire to serve you.

In fact, my resolve to work hard, to work tirelessly and with great sincerity is even greater. (emphasis ours)

5. Some much needed drama

In all honesty, there was really nothing much to talk about other than the relentless sun, which was doing its utmost best to toast even the most hardcore Halimah supporter.

This guy, obviously. (Photo by Ilene Fong)

Luckily, perennial election candidate Ooi Boon Ewe, strolled in with a briefcase full of drama (and possibly paperwork) and demanded to be let in to the nomination centre, stating that he’s a presidential hopeful.

News flash: He was not certified by the Presidential Elections Committee for obvious reasons.

After some low-key shouting and gesticulating, the 76-year-old was eventually let in. For a brief 15 minutes, he actually stole the president-elect’s thunder.

His dramatic entrance was probably the only thing really worth reporting in an otherwise drab affair. Other than the freaking weather, of course.

And that’s all folks. See you again in six years’ time.

Top photo by Martino Tan

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About Martino Tan

Martino’s parents named him after an Italian priest, Vatican's 1st ambassador to S’pore. He's inspired by the lives of Robert Kennedy & D. Bonhoeffer, the words of G.Orwell & T.Sorensen, & the music of the Beatles.

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