SINGAPORE: The Singapore Parliament has welcomed its first woman Speaker, Halimah Yacob.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had nominated Madam Halimah to be elected as the 9th Speaker of Parliament after former Speaker and Member of Parliament Michael Palmer resigned from his posts in December 2012 due to an extramarital affair.
Other parliamentarians heaped glowing tributes on Madam Halimah as they spoke in support of her appointment. However, they also acknowledged the contributions by the previous Speaker, Michael Palmer, who had left the seat abruptly.
Many MPs have said they will miss her contributions to debates as an MP, but they have full confidence she will be able to execute her responsibility as Speaker with balance and effectiveness.
Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, urged Madam Halimah to "continue to support with speed and heart and not ignore me when I raise my hands or try to catch your eye for an opportunity to continue to speak up for them in this house."
Ms Phua said that she was confident of Madam Halimah's capability, communication talents and eloquence, and that Madam Halimah will carry out her duties as Speaker "with fairness and dignity."
MInister of State for Finance and Transport, Josephine Teo, also highlighted how Madam Halimah has made a difference not only in Singapore, but abroad as well.
Mrs Teo said: "In the international labour movement, Madam Halimah is a well-known and well-respected advocate of workers' interests. Singapore's unique brand of tripartism has drawn its share of criticisms over the years.
"However, through the active representation of our union leaders like Madam Halimah, we have won over our detractors. There is no one at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) who doesn't know her.
"Even after Madam Halimah was appointed Minister of State, she offered to return to the ILC to finish the challenging task she had started in 2010 to have the ILO adopt a new convention and recommendation aimed at improving the working conditions of domestic workers worldwide."
With this appointment, work begins immediately for the new Speaker as Singapore seeks to tackle challenges like an ageing population and labour constraints.
Leader of the House and Defence Minister, Ng Eng Hen, spoke on behalf of the house.
He said: There will be crucial national issues put before us and difficult decisions to make. We must expect vigorous debates to balance the trade-offs with different choices.
"Madam Speaker, in all of this, we expect your firm and impartial hand that will move our debates and deliberations toward fruitful and expeditious outcomes. In this, your task will be simpler if all members remember to keep their speeches short and to the point.
"Madam Speaker, we look forward to your leadership and contributions in the years ahead. This House must quickly gear itself up for much work that lay ahead of us."
Madam Halimah said she is confident that she will have the support of the MPs to carry out her duties.
She said: "I'm confident that I will have your support and cooperation in the discharge of this duty and in the conduct of the proceedings of this House. You will agree with me that we owe a duty to the people of Singapore who have placed us in the house to act in their best interests.
"Honourable members may have different views and I expect debate to be vigorous. I believe that rigorous examination of policies and laws will no doubt ensure greater clarity, contribute to stronger policy formulation and better reflect the needs of our society."