It sure took a lot of courage and guts to swim against the currents to appoint a Muslim woman as the presidency in Singapore, and that is exactly what the Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had when he pressed on with his party’s agenda.
Yet, the entire game plan could have damaged the PAP’s support at grassroots level, with the ire of the larger community made clear through the chatter in coffee shops and certainly on social media platforms.
But then again, the PAP is like a Phoenix, rising always from its bruises only to impress and to march on with its political agenda in this tiny, but very powerful Island Republic.
For Mr. Lee, the imposition of Mrs. Halimah Yacob at the iconic post of President of the Republic was not as dramatic as the recent fratricidal war that tore his family apart and rummaged through the legacy of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister and the founder of modern Singapore.
A quick review of the social media platforms in Singapore shows an almost total backlash from the majority community against the PAP, while the war of the siblings attracted the antipathy of a larger segment of the Singaporean populace.
More Muslims, Indians and a large number of the Chinese community were bashing the Lee’s for their washing of the dirty family linen in public, but the entire episode collapsed after PM Lee addressed the nation through the Parliament.
That changed the entire landscape and PM Lee earned the respect of across the globe for his bravado.
But attacking the PAP on a so-called-democratic principle was perhaps the wrong move by its opponents, considering the fact that the party had won one of the biggest electoral victory in its history in 2015.
True though that the opposition, unable to win the necessary seats and votes in the last general elections, wanted to use the Presidential election as a platform to press the PAP into an ugly corner.
But its rejection of the ‘race’ factor and the need to have a rotational system to elect or choose a particular community to become the powerless President was probably not the right move.
History will tell that the election – or rather non-election – of Mrs. Halimah as the first woman president of Singapore was not well received by a large number of the community in Singapore.
Will the agitators accept responsibility for the racial divide that became prominent through the social media platforms?
The live coverage of the installation of Halimah to the post of President was met with the ‘angry face’ icon from mostly non-Malays, sparking outrage from the Singaporean Malay community in particular.
It also showed the deep communal and racial divide in the Singaporean nation over the political decisions made from the top.
While it is evident that the PM’s party, the People’s Action Party, has so far enjoyed unilateral rule without major glitches since the country’s independence, it is more difficult today for the leadership to force its policies on the nation.
But will the ‘nomination’ of the first woman president become the pore that could cause a loss of support for the PAP in the future?
A muted protest by anti-Halimah-anti-PE17-walkover antagonists failed to impress, with only a few joining the opponents.
This showed the divide between the real and the surreal in Singapore. Does it mean what happens on the internet and the social media does not necessarily translate into reality for Singapore?
Perhaps there might be a slight depression in the support for the PAP in a future election but that would not mean the party risks losing its grip on power.
Would it have been easier for the PAP to engage all the stakeholders, that is the opposition and the communal leaders in pushing for its agenda to have a Malay-Muslim as President?
Nevertheless, the installation of the first Malay-woman President in the country received the accolades of almost the entire Asean region, hailing it as a progressive move while the foreign nations did not bother about the way it happened.
If they were to gauge the PAP’s strength, it is the party’s and its leadership success in imposing its choice and in barring its opponents from competing in the ‘election’ that shines.
But it is PM Lee’s personal handling of the situation, pushing forward his agenda to have a Muslim, a Woman and a controversial one for that matter (with many questioning whether she is Malay or Indian), as Singapore’s iconic President.
This commentary was first published on the WFTV portal. The content of this article does not reflect the opinion of TISG.
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