As the first president to be elected in a reserved election, President Halimah Yacob had expected controversy.
There was disquiet when the presidential election in 2017 was reserved for Malay candidates, and the chatter got louder when only Madam Halimah qualified out of three hopefuls.
After her walkover victory, she assured all Singaporeans that she would “serve everyone of you, regardless of race, language or religion”.
Looking back on her term, she says: “Public office is never a walk in the park, is it? You have to expect to be scrutinised, to be criticised, to be questioned.”
Of the controversial start to her presidency, she adds: “So I expected that, and it happened… but you just stay focused.
“What we need to do is always stay focused, that’s what I’ve always done – stay focused on what are my goals, what I want to achieve, and let people judge how best have you contributed to improving their lives.”
Six years on, she reiterates that the introduction of the reserved election then, following changes to the Constitution, was an important development in Singapore’s history, and a necessary step to protect multiracialism.
“Although I was elected during the reserved elected presidency process, I am a president for all people, regardless of race, language, religion,” she says.
She adds that she will leave people to judge her based on her actions more than her words.
At the start of her presidency, Madam Halimah was still staying in a Yishun HDB flat, Singapore’s first head of state to live in public housing while in office.
She had initially said she would not move out of the flat despite her elevated status, but later changed her mind after the Ministry of Home Affairs told her it would be challenging for the security agencies to ensure her security and protection there.
People had travelled from all over Singapore specially to the Yishun Avenue 4 block to check out her jumbo flat, which had become a bit of a curiosity.
Asked whether she would move back there, she laughs and says: “I cannot escape that question.”
She adds that she will have to consult her family and children with regard to accommodation.
As to her plans after she steps down as president, Madam Halimah says she will “retire”.
“When people retire, the first thing that they do is they try to catch up with the time that they have lost with family. That’s the most important thing. I lost a lot of time with the family,” she says wistfully, adding that her five children have all grown up.
“So what you do is you substitute that with grandchildren,” she says.
She has a five-year-old granddaughter and six-month-old grandson, and friends sometimes ask her: “How can you only have two?”
She quips: “It’s not that I can order people. But even if I do, finally, they must take the last mile.”
Besides family time, she will also continue to champion the causes close to her heart.
“I will continue in whatever capacity I can to contribute my voice, my thoughts to those causes as well in whatever capacity I can do and for as long as I can,” she says.
Noting that she will be 70 next year, she adds: “I think it’s been a good six years. I’m happy if I had been able to help people, I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
This article first appeared on The Straits Times.