SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will nominate Minister of State Halimah Yacob to be elected as Speaker of Parliament when Parliament next sits on Monday, January 14.
If elected, she will be Singapore’s first woman Speaker and will fill the post vacated by former Member of Parliament, Mr Michael Palmer, who stepped down last month due to an extramarital affair.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced this in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier in the afternoon, Mr Lee briefed Members of Parliament of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) on this at a party caucus and received their full support.
As the Speaker cannot be elected from members who are office holders, Mdm Halimah will resign as Minister of State (MOS) on January 13.
Mr Lee thanked Mdm Halimah for her many valuable contributions in the Cabinet, and as MOS for Community Development, Youth and Sports and subsequently for Social and Family Development over the past two years.
He said that in Cabinet, she spoke up with a practical and compassionate voice, helping to shape effective policies with a human touch.
In her portfolio, she oversaw the expansion of home— and community—based eldercare services, and introduced innovative concepts such as Senior Care Centres and Senior Home Care Services.
Mr Lee said she enhanced ComCare support for the poor and needy, and strengthened services for children and families in need of care and protection.
She also worked with women’s groups to expand the space for women to contribute to Singapore’s economy and society.
He described her as passionate about such issues, saying she "threw her heart and soul into the work", as she had done during her time in the National Trades Union Congress, tirelessly championing the cause of low—wage workers.
Mr Lee said he looks forward to Mdm Halimah continuing her interest in social issues and pre—school education, in a suitable capacity that is compatible with her role as Speaker.
Mdm Halimah, who said she was deeply honoured to be nominated, has pledged to do her best to uphold the integrity and dignity of Parliament, and to conduct proceedings in a fair and impartial manner.
She said she was aware of the high demands and the heavy responsibilities of the office and looks forward to working with all MPs.
"I really love what I am doing now, and I had been working with so many wonderful people who champion the different causes, be it the disadvantaged, the elderly or women and children. I am glad that even if I am elected, I will be able to continue work on some of these areas such as social issues and pre—school education," she said in a statement.
Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing described Mdm Halimah as a wonderful partner at the ministry, as well as a torch bearer — with a passionate and tireless style.
He said he has always benefited from her frank counsel.
Mr Chan, who said he knew of Mdm Halimah’s nomination with both joy and sadness, added that he and his colleagues will miss her.
"I would also like to congratulate Halimah on her nomination to be our first woman Speaker. I am heartened that I will have an opportunity to continue to work with her," he said.
MPs said while it’s a pity that Mdm Halimah will no longer be able to air her views in Parliament, she will make a good Speaker.
Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC, said: "Certainly I’m sure it’s a difficult choice for PM. On the one hand, the Speaker’s position is a very important one but having said that I’m sure it will be a loss no doubt to the Ministry of Social and Family Development where she’s the Minister of State. So PM and the cabinet would have lost someone, a very valued member of the team.
"Indeed it will be a loss and Halimah has many experiences and expertise, with (her) heart for the people, and the labour movement where she spent the bulk of her career. She’s always fighting for, especially the low—income workers, the common man. So those dimensions, those experiences she can value—add, and help in shaping policies — that will be something I think will be missed in Cabinet."
Mr Baey Yam Keng, MP for Tampines GRC, said: "She’s legally trained, that’s always useful for a Speaker, and she’s also a veteran MP. So she’ll be very familiar with the proceedings, what backbenchers look for in a good discussion in Parliament.
"Although she has just been in Cabinet for one year plus, I think she’ll have a good appreciation of what happens within the Cabinet and I think being the bridge between the back and the front bench, that kind of experience would be very useful.
Mr Alex Yam, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said he has known Mdm Halimah for almost six years and describes her as someone who is very vocal and passionate.
"Across the different parties, she is someone who is easy to respect, and everyone looks forward to her leadership of the House," he said.
He added that he is confident that Mdm Halimah will be able to negotiate the transition from the front bench to the role of Speaker well.
Mr Alvin Yeo, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, called Mdm Halimah’s nomination an "extremely good choice".
"The Speaker is the leader in the sense that when it comes to moderating the debate, and you must be respected for fairness and even—handedness, which she is, so that will help her discharge her duty well. The only downside is losing her participation in the debate because she always argued passionately and with conviction."
Mr Zainudin Nordin, MP for Bishan—Toa Payoh GRC, describes Mdm Halimah as someone who "speaks her mind and is very clear in the way she thinks".
"The nomination is a testament to the person she is and as a Member of Parliament, she has shown herself to be very capable. And for the Malay—Muslim community, this is something to be very proud of," he added.
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