Halimah Yacob qualifies to run in Reserved Election; been certified a Malay 3 times so far

Halimah Yacob qualifies to run in Reserved Election; been certified a Malay 3 times so far
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Halimah Yacob qualifies to run in Reserved Election

The question of whether Halimah Yacob qualifies, or should qualify, to run as a Malay candidate in September’s Reserved Election is moot. The question has been a topic of discussion online since Mdm Halimah expressed the possibility of seeking the presidency.

The “doubts”, as some describe it, over her eligibility stem from the fact that her father was an Indian-Muslim. Therefore, her detractors say, she should not qualify to run in September because the Reserved Election is limited to only Malay candidates.

Now, let’s take a little walk-back to see why Mdm Halimah, in fact, qualifies.

For one, she has already been certified as a Malay during the general elections, particularly the elections of 2001, 2006 and 2015.

Mdm Halimah, currently the Speaker of Parliament, has been in politics since 2001, and therefore has gone through 4 general elections. And in Singapore, a minority candidate has to be certified as a member of his or her respective ethnic community by the Malay Community Committee (MCC), or the Indian and Other Minority Communities Committee (OMCC).

These Community Committees are made up of members of the respective communities – that is, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and other minority races. (See 27C here.)

From records of Parliament gazettes, we know that Mdm Halimah would have been certified as a Malay at least three times so far. This is because in a general election, under Singapore’s Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system, contesting teams are required to have either a Malay or an Indian/Others candidate among its ranks.

The President designates which minority-race candidate is required in particular GRCs. Some will require a Malay candidate, while others an Indian/Others candidate.

Mdm Halimah had been a candidate in Jurong GRC for 3 consecutive electoral contests – 2001, 2006, and 2011.

In 2015, she was moved to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC.

In the first 3 elections, Jurong GRC required:

2001: Malay as minority candidate (Mdm Halimah)

2006: Malay as minority candidate (Mdm Halimah)

2011: Indian as minority candidate (Tharman Shanmugaratnam)

Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC:

2015: Malay as minority candidate (Mdm Halimah)

In both teams in those years, Mdm Halimah was the only Malay candidate in the PAP team. So, that’s how we know that she was certified as a Malay candidate.

The fact of her father being an Indian-Muslim surfaced in 2013 in a Straits Times report. But apparently, no one paid any close attention to this, until last week when her name emerged as a possible contestant in September’s elections.

Now, questions are being raised about whether she is in fact Malay, despite her history of electoral contests where she had already been certified to be so. If we go by her parliamentary qualification as a minority-race candidate, she is in fact Malay, and thus qualifies to run in September.

Nonetheless, what makes a person a Malay (or any other race, for that matter) is a question worth exploring.

Take the example of 43-year old Fahmi Rais, a candidate for the opposition SingFirst party in the 2015 elections.

Mr Fahmi had always been seen as a Malay, and indeed he considers himself one all his life.

But in 2015, he learned from his maternal grandmother that he was in fact an adopted child.

His biological parents were Chinese, while his adoptive parents were Malay.

It was, unsurprisingly, quite an emotional discovery for him.

The New Paper, 2015

Mr Fahmi, The New Paper (TNP) reported, “was a community and youth activist and has held leadership positions in several Malay organisations, including Majlis Pusat and Yayasan Mendaki.”

Naturally, he was concerned that people would now look at him in a different light after his Chinese ethnicity came to light.

“In one night, I changed from one race to another,” he said. “I feel like I’ve lost my bearings – should I continue serving in the Malay community or should I spend my time searching for my Chinese roots?”

So, for someone like him, should we adhere strictly to biological ties to determine one’s race? Or should there be other considerations?

One would tend to agree with National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser who told TNP at the time that ethnic identity is a “matter of socialisation”.

“It has nothing to do with skin colour or other so-called racial features.

“A person who is told that he is ‘racially’ a Chinese would probably not take on the Chinese identity and culture unless he seeks to be so for whatever reasons and/or if significant others treat him as Chinese.

“People can also have multiple identities.”

Indeed, the government recognises this, and has allowed a person to change his race twice – once before he is 21 and the other after that age.

According to TNP, “those aged 21 years and above will be required to execute a statutory declaration stating the reason for changing their race and affirming that they will not change their race again.”

So, back to Mdm Halimah.

Should we deny her race (Malay) just because her father was Indian, despite how she (and her family) sees herself, her personal conviction, and her life’s work within the Malay community as one of its members?

Should we cancel the election results in Marsiling-Yew Tee because she is deemed to be not from the required race (Malay)? That would be quite ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

Do note that Mr Fahmi had also contested in the elections as a Malay candidate in Tanjong Pagar, who would champion Malay issues if voted into Parliament.

If we go strictly by the book, Mr Fahmi would be considered a Chinese, wouldn’t he? But is that true for him, given that he has always lived as a Malay?

For Mdm Halimah, she would once again be required to declare her ethnicity if she should decide to run for President. It would be her 4th such declaration, and yes it is also quite ridiculous that a minority-race candidate has to do this each time she runs for elections.

Perhaps what would help the discussion along is for the Community Committees to make their deliberations public so that Singaporeans can understand how such determinations are made.