Singapore’s next President will be Malay

In order to retain Singapore’s multi-ethnic status, it has been announced that the next President of Singapore will be ethnically Malay. Can Singapore break its racially homogenous Presidential cycle, in favour of a hiatus-triggered model? Is there a possibility that the next President will be a woman?


Singapore’s President Tony Tan has declared that he will not be standing in the next Presidential election and announced that the next candidate will be ethnically Malay. President Tony Tan made his statement after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a speech in Parliament on the Constitutional Amendments.

Singapore’s President highlighted it was important for the Presidency to stay relevant with time and Singapore’s local context. On this note, he reminded Singapore that the last Malay President was President Yusof Ishak and that was fourty-six years ago.

Breaking the old cycle

PM Lee Hsien Loong stressed that this change in decision was due to the lack of racial diversity in Singapore’s “hiatus-triggered model”. The latter model seeks to ensure that minorities are represented in the Presidential election, by having the Presidency rotate between ethnic groups each term.

Therefore, under the “hiatus-triggered model’, there would be a Malay President one term, then an Indian president the next,  then a Chinese President, and so on and so forth, in order to preserve racial equality in Singapore.

However, PM Lee clarified that Singapore would only follow the hiatus-triggered model so long as there are qualified candidates from each ethnic group to run for the Presidency. On this note, Singapore has had five consecutive presidential terms without a Malay President;

  1. Mr Wee Kim Wee , served from 1985-1993, and was ethnically Chinese.
  2. Mr Ong Teng Cheong, served from 1993-1999, and was ethnically Chinese.
  3. Mr S R Nathan, served from 1999-2011, and was ethnically Indian.
  4. Current President Tony Tan Keng Yam, has served from 2011 until 2017, and is ethnically Chinese.

Subsequently, the government justified its support for the hiatus-triggered model, by stating that its President needs to be chosen from among the various ethnic groups within Singapore, in order for the office of the President to be a credible symbol of Singapore’s multi-ethnic status.

However, in recent years critics have stated that the government has failed to represent Singapore’s status as a multi-ethnic country, since they’ve been unsuccessful in electing a Malay Presidential candidate in over four decades.

The unique role of Singapore’s President

Accordingly, Singapore has a Parliamentary system of government, not a Presidential one. Thus, the President is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government. Additionally, the President’s role is mainly to exercise his power to approve legislation, to approve appointments to public offices, influence the government budget, oversee the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, to maintain religious/ethnic harmony and make executive decisions under the Internal Security Act.

Moreover, during the 2011 Presidential elections, some Singaporeans believed that the President was about to influence government policies. Later, the government emphasized that the President with the advice of his council could veto some government actions. Nonetheless, the government assured Singaporeans that their President would not be able to advance any policy agenda.

In fact, the President must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet and is required to consult the council of Presidential advisers when exercising his veto powers in connection with Singapore’s national reserves and public appointments.

Will the next President be a woman?

Many Singaporeans are curious to find out who their next President will be. Subsequently, many political commentators are speculating the next Presidential candidate may be the current parliamentary speaker Halimah Yacob, who is not only ethnically Malay, but also one of Singapore’s only Women holding an influential public office.

Halimah is the symbol of success for Malay women throughout Singapore, as she’s shown her commitment to both her work and her family, through her outstanding political track record since becoming an MP in 2001 and endless devotion to raising her five children. However, despite all of the speculation over Halimah’s potential candidacy, election rules do not allow the ruling party to openly endorse its preferred candidate for the presidency.