SINGAPORE: Farid Khan is a private person by his own admission. The chairman of marine services firm Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific said he is known in the maritime industry where he has forged a successful career, but not outside of it.
He squinted as the lights were turned on for this on-camera interview. “This is my first time,” he admitted. “Still not used to it!”
In fact, privacy was one of the issues raised by Mr Farid's wife when he first raised the possibility of running for President. “She was very worried about me. She said, ‘You’re a very private person and now you’re going to put yourself under the spotlight as a public figure. Can you handle this or not?’” he recalled.
Despite uneasiness about being in the public eye, Mr Farid’s self-professed patriotism meant he had to step forward. “I’ve always wanted to do something for my country. I’ve done quite a lot community work, I feel like I can contribute a little bit more.”
EXPERIENCING LIFE “THE DIFFICULT WAY”
The 62-year-old presidential hopeful said his love for Singapore came from his father who left Pakistan in search of a better life for his family. This was before Mr Farid was born.
“Of all the places he could have gone to, he found this place,” Mr Farid said. “There must be something about the place.” For him, Singapore is special because of its success story, and the friendships forged throughout his life
Resilience was a central theme during the interview. By the time he was 15, he had lost both his elder brother and father. Being the second eldest among his eight other siblings, that meant he was given more responsibilities within the household.
A young Mr Farid had to resort to odd jobs to earn money for the family. As a result, he said he lost much of his teenage years, in more ways than one. “That part of my life is a blank. Until today, I can’t remember exactly what happened through the years. Only working, working, working,”
Mr Farid took a breath. “I have gone through life the difficult way. Where I am now was not easy for me. So I understand the feelings of people who are helpless, who feel nobody cares for them.” He lamented the fact that there was little in the way of organisational support when his family was struggling to make ends meet. “(You) hope that someone would come and rescue you. But it didn’t come.”
The experience made him empathetic to the needs of underprivileged Singaporeans. “I can feel it in my heart,” Mr Farid said, adding that social work is where he sees himself contributing the most if he becomes President.
He cited initiatives that are already in place to help needy Singaporeans, saying he would like to work with them and support them. “There is a government in place, there are organisations in place that can help you. And as President I will spearhead this, (just) tell me what I can do to help.”
These experiences, coupled with his time as a successful corporate chief, have allowed him to “meet people at all levels”, he added.
ELIGIBLE, OR NOT?
While Mr Farid’s patriotism and heart for the people were main factors in his decision to contest the Elected Presidency, he hinted that the reserved election this year - for candidates from the Malay community - also played a part, as the assumption is that there would be fewer contenders.
"If there are so many of them (in a non-reserved election) fighting for the same causes then maybe other people … the best people, should go forward.”
Three people have declared their intention to run for the Presidency. Businessman Salleh Marican was the first to put his name into the hat, while former Speaker of Parliament and labour advocate Halimah Yacob made her announcement after Mr Farid did.
Mr Farid, who admitted he liked the idea of a challenge, only took the plunge after he had done his homework. “I went a bit deeper to find out more about role of the president. Discretionary, non-discretionary, the unifying part, the ceremonial part, those are okay,” he said. “I understand the economic situation of the region and the world, because in the maritime industry we follow that closely. On the other side, will be the appointment of key appointment holders, which the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPAs), can advise me (about),” he added.
Still, to qualify as a candidate, Mr Farid will need to meet the private sector requirement of having run a company with at least S$500 million in shareholders’ equity - a criteria that he said is "not easy" to achieve.
He has also had to fend off harsh questions about his race which is stated as "Pakistani" on his identity card. A regular volunteer at mosques in Singapore, Mr Farid insists he is from the Malay community.
“It hurt a little bit, especially when the comments come from people who don’t know you,” he said. “Please don’t judge this man. Look at his profile, what he has done for the community, look at what his aspirations are, why he wants to be President.”
“WHEREVER YOU GO, I GO WITH YOU”
After surviving a difficult childhood and having worked in the offshore industry, Mr Farid described himself as “tough”. It’s a trait that he believes has put him in good stead, as he continues to walk a path he first decided upon in May this year.
“My focus is very straight. This is the direction I’m going to (take), I’m going to keep on going that way.”
When asked getting his family's support, Mr Farid said with a chuckle: "I went to the children first." He has a 24-year-old daughter who works for a Kuala Lumpur-based social start-up which helps refugees, and an 18-year-old son studying mechanical engineering at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).
Even though “they didn’t know much", they were won over after he told them that a president would be able to help vulnerable Singaporeans such as the elderly or at-risk youths.
Then, Mr Farid had to convince his wife. “It was tough,” he said, recalling his efforts to persuade her. After all, he had promised to retire by the time he turned 62, to spend more time with her. The couple had also agreed to perform the haj or pilgrimage to the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Eventually, she came around to the idea of him running for the Presidency, after coming to understand the “sacrifice” that he wanted to make for his country.
“She finally said: ‘Okay. Wherever you go, I go with you.’ So I asked: “Is that an okay?’ She replied, ‘No, wherever you go, I go with you, so that is as good an approval as you can get, so stick with it!'”