SINGAPORE: It was a solemn moment and all was quiet in the grand State Room of the Istana, save for the voice of one person.
“I, Halimah Yacob, having been elected as President of the Republic of Singapore, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully discharge my duties.”
It was Thursday evening (Sep 14), and the inauguration ceremony for Singapore’s first female President was underway. All eyes in the room were on the diminutive figure of 63-year-old Mdm Halimah Yacob, who was dressed in muted tones of brown and ochre, as she stood and took the oath to mark the start of her six-year term.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon administered the oath in the presence of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and more than 200 guests including Cabinet ministers and their spouses, Members of Parliament and representatives from ASEAN and other key dialogue countries.
Smartphone cameras were raised as Mdm Halimah put pen to paper, and photographers jostled for space at the back of the room to capture the historical moment that she officially became Singapore’s eighth President, and the country's first Malay head of state since its first President, Yusof Ishak.
TOUR OF ISTANA; GUARD OF HONOUR
The inauguration ceremony capped an eventful day for Mdm Halimah, who was welcomed at the Istana first thing in the morning by staff members of the President’s Office.
She was given a tour of the Istana, and told media that she is thinking of ways to share the Istana grounds with more Singaporeans.
She has also said that she would like to continue staying at her “jumbo” HDB flat in Yishun and it is not clear yet if she will be moving to the official residence of the President.
At the evening ceremony, Mdm Halimah received her first Presidential Salute – a ceremonial form of paying compliments to the President – from the Guard of Honour at the Istana’s Ceremonial Plaza.
She then made her way into the State Room together with PM Lee, smiling at the guests who rose as one to welcome her with a standing ovation.
"A SIGNIFICANT MOMENT IN HISTORY"
Speaking after Mdm Halimah took her oath, Mr Lee congratulated her and hailed her inauguration as "a significant moment in our history".
He highlighted an important difference between her previous roles and that of head of state.
"Hitherto, you have been fighting the good fight – in the unions, in the political arena, in the governing party.
"Now as President, you have to be non-partisan and above the political fray," said Mr Lee.
The Prime Minister also said that Mdm Halimah's journey from humble roots to the highest office in the land reflects Singapore's own story.
"Your story reflects the Singapore story – how we have come this far together, and what we aspire to be as a nation," said Mr Lee.
In her first speech as President, Mdm Halimah said her duty was to unite the people.
“I call on all Singaporeans to join me in this endeavour. Our goal must be to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations.”
Noting the unhappiness some Singaporeans felt about the recent changes to the Elected Presidency, she said: “Like them, I look forward to the day when we will no longer need to rely on the provision to have reserved elections, and Singaporeans naturally and regularly elect citizens of all races as Presidents.”
She added: “Today, I want to assure all Singaporeans that as your President, I will serve every one of you, regardless of race, language or religion.”
Recounting how she had a difficult childhood, she said that her story was similar to that of many Singaporeans and she has strong personal convictions about upholding the country's meritocratic system.
“Without it, I would not be here today,” she said.
For Mdm Halimah, the ceremony – has drawn to a close, with a sumptuous banquet and the customary portrait with the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and the Chief Justice. But her journey as Singapore’s first female President has only just begun.