Controversy Around Singapore Presidential Candidates of Indian Descent

Two of the leading candidates for Singapore presidential election, Halimah Yacob and Salleh Marican, have Indian roots, and have been criticised for not being ‘Malay enough’.


The upcoming presidential election in Singapore, the first one to be reserved for candidates from the Malay community, has sparked a debate in the country about the ‘Malayness’ of the aspirants in the run. Two of the three main candidates in the fray — Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and businessman Salleh Marican — are of Indian descent while the third — private firm CEO Farid Khan — is of Pakistani heritage.

Reservation for Malay candidates

The reservation for Malay candidates in the election came about following changes to the Constitution to ensure that Singapore’s multiracial society is reflected in the country’s highest office. Candidates will have to submit a community declaration to certify their ethnic group, following which a fact-finding process will be conducted by the concerned authorities to decide if the contestant belongs to the community.

The new amendment specifies that there will be at least one Chinese, one Malay and one president who is either Indian or “other minority” within the course of six presidential terms, provided qualified candidates appear, Eurasiareview reported. Following this, the next President of Singapore has to be of Malay ethnicity. The amendment has been criticised by many for the confusion it creates over candidates with multi-ethnic heritage, and who is eligible to fall into the ‘Malay’ category.

According to the Parliamentary Elections Act — and the latest amendments to Article 19B of the Constitution — a person belonging to the Malay community is “any person, whether of the Malay race or otherwise, who considers himself to be a member of the Malay community and who is generally accepted as a member of the Malay community by that community.”

Halimah Yacob

Yacob, who confirmed her intention to contest the election on Sunday, has become the first woman to run for the office in the country. The 62-year-old veteran politician, whose father was an Indian-Muslim, had first expressed her desire to contest the election in July this year, prompting critics to bring up the issue of her heritage.

Responding to media queries about the debate over her ethnicity, Yacob said on July 29 that she has been “certified four times by the community committee” as a member of the Malay community, Today reported.

Yacob, who has been the speaker since 2013, was the first woman to hold the post in Singapore. Yacob had also participated in the country’s general elections in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2015 as a Malay community leader.

Salleh Marican 

The 62-year-old CEO of Second Chance Properties has been criticised for not being fluent enough in the Malay language. Marican, whose father is Indian, had later said in an interview with Yahoo Singapore that he was taking Malay lessons ahead of the presidential election.

Marican, however, is also said to be an ineligible candidate since he does not meet the required financial criteria to contest for the office. The Singapore Constitution specifies that candidates from the private sector should have been the chief executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity, on average, for the last three years. However, Second Chance Properties’ shareholder equity was between $254.3 million and $263.25 million in the past three financial years. However, the Presidential Elections Committee has the discretion to certify the candidature of an applicant who does not automatically meet the criteria.

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