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HomesingaporeFarewell, Madam Halimah: Singapore’s first female president’s last day in office

Farewell, Madam Halimah: Singapore’s first female president’s last day in office

SINGAPORE – Six years after making history as Singapore’s first woman head of state, President Halimah Yacob left the highest office in the land with accolades of being a powerful symbol of unity for all Singaporeans.

At her farewell reception held at the Istana on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Madam Halimah’s efforts to expand opportunities for all made for a more united and inclusive Singapore, where everyone belongs and has a part to play.

Recalling that when she was elected in 2017, Madam Halimah said she was a president for everyone, PM Lee said: “Through your leadership and heart for the people, you have certainly fulfilled your promise.”

He said that throughout her tenure, Madam Halimah showed the way with “grounded leadership, and a warm heart for the people”.

“Your ability to empathise and resonate with Singaporeans from all walks of life has brought our nation closer together, and reminded us that we all have a role to play to make Singapore a better home,” he added.

In her speech following PM Lee’s, Madam Halimah said the president plays “an important role in uniting and rallying people together”.

“In this capacity, I focused on creating a more caring, compassionate and just society,” she added.

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Madam Halimah, 69, said she reached out to different communities and underprivileged people, and highlighted various programmes that she launched while in office.

She championed issues such as providing more support for caregivers, skills upgrading for lower-income families, and building interracial and interreligious harmony and social cohesion.

Diplomacy was also a key part of her work, and she saw it as a chance to raise Singapore’s international image, strengthen the nation’s bilateral ties, and open new economic opportunities for companies here.

As the first female president, Madam Halimah knew that she had the “distinct opportunity” to inspire other women and girls.

She shared that someone had told her she had “allowed people to imagine the president as a woman” and that “images and ideas give birth to reality”.

“I wish Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam all the best in discharging his duties,” Madam Halimah said, addressing the President-elect, who was standing near the front of the audience with his wife, Ms Jane Ittogi.

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Mr Tharman, 66, will be sworn in on Thursday, after securing 70.41 per cent of the vote at the presidential election on Sept 1.

As she left the podium, Madam Halimah received rousing applause from an audience of more than 200, including foreign diplomats, MPs and leaders from the social service sector.

With her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, by her side, she received well wishes and took wefies with guests, including MPs from both sides of the House.

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She had earlier in her speech called her family’s love, encouragement and sacrifices “the bedrock of (her) strength” and said she was forever grateful for their support.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim, who was among the crowd, said Madam Halimah has been a unifying figure not just for Singapore but a symbol of aspiration for minority women everywhere.

“She will be remembered not only as a decisive president who supported the Government in steering our country out of the pandemic safely, but also as a president who is generous in lending her voice to speak up on behalf of various segments in our society such as youth, women and workers,” he said.

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Before departing the Istana, Madam Halimah posed for pictures on the staircase by the main entrance with her family. She had said her farewells to members of the Istana staff earlier on Wednesday morning, shaking their hands and sharing laughs before taking a group photo.

Her aide-de-camp, Major Toh Su Sin, said it had been an honour to serve Singapore’s first female president. “As challenging as it was to plan and manage the range of events in Madam President’s packed diary, it was even more rewarding to be able to witness the difference she makes in the lives of others,” she said.

She added that Madam Halimah’s warmth and genuine care for everyone she meets will be missed.

Senior butler Zaidi Hashim recalled feeling awestruck on Madam Halimah’s first day in office. He said: “Madam President treated everyone with equal respect, dignity, and compassion – whether they were foreign dignitaries or her staff.

“It was bittersweet bidding farewell to her on her last day in office.”

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