The world’s only hijab-wearing president - TAHA KILINÇ

The world’s only hijab-wearing president

City-state Singapore located in South East Asia with a population of 5.5 million elected its first female president in the past few days. When her two rivals Farid Khan and Salleh Marican were excluded from the competition by the Supreme Electoral Council since they didn’t fulfill the conditions required by the constitution, Halimah Yacob (63) gaining the 15 percent vote of the Malay minority came to office without an election procedure. After being elected, Yacob who gained the title of “the only president wearing a hijab in the world,” will remain in office, which does not have any executive powers, for six years.

The Singaporean Supreme Electoral Council had decided that in this year’s election someone from the Malay minority would be elected to promote social harmony and order. Accordingly, Halimah Yacob who had been the president of the assembly since 2013 offered her resignation last month and announced her candidacy for president. Yusof Ishak, who was the president from 1965 to 1970, was the last Malay president in office before Yacob. His picture is still on Singapore’s currency today.

Halimah Yacob, who has become the center of criticism regarding the manner she was brought to office since the election procedure was not carried out, tried to calm down opponents by saying that she will be a “president for everyone.” In the Chinese-majority Singapore, the prime minister and cabinet of ministers hold the actual administrative powers. Despite this, Yacob’s election is criticized as a “lack of democracy.”

The story of Halimah Yacob, who was born in Singapore on Aug. 23, 1954 as the child of an Indian father and a Malay mother, is quite impressive. Upon her father’s death when she was eight, her mother brought her up along with four siblings with her own means. The family lived in a one-room house for many years. After tough years in which the growing children helped their mother to maintain the family, Halimah Yacob studied law at the University of Singapore. Receiving her master’s degree in 2001 from the same faculty and going into politics in the same year, Halimah Yacob married to a Yemeni-origin businessman named Mohammed Abdullah al-Habshi. They have two sons and three daughters.

Coming into office after taking oath, Yacob who said that she would continue to live in her apartment in Yishun region of Singapore, gave the message that she would be particularly close to the poor and needy in the country.

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Singapore which was established as one of the trade colonies of England in the region in 1819 is a city-state where the English language and culture is dominant although the majority (75 percent) of the population is Chinese. There is an interesting background to this situation:

Lee Kuan Yew, who became a hardline pro-British after he studied in England even though he was a member of a wealthy Chinese family who had been living in Singapore since the 19th century, is the main actor of this background. Having served as the prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990 (and holding the world record in this field), Lee established an oppressive regime which even interfered with people chewing gum on the streets. Being a linguist, Lee put the project of turning Singapore into one of the trade and financial centers of the world into practice by making English an obligatory language. 

In 1981, the state-run radio and television agency discontinued broadcasting all dialects of Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Thus, Singapore’s  diverse nation became disconnected from their native languages. In 1987, the three largest ethnic groups in the country - the Chinese, the Malays and the Indians - were forced to study English at school. According to the latest research, only 12 percent of the Chinese, who  make up the majority of Singapore, speak Chinese at home.

The English language and culture have been adopted by almost everybody in the country without an alternative, which is also due to the impact of the enormous economic development that Singapore has showed. Today, the Chinese majority does not even feel a certain sympathy for their motherland China and its policies anymore.

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Keeping Singapore as its actual colony through educating a Chinese-origin prime minister with its own system is an interesting example of the management pattern that English politics put into practice across the world. We can see the same thing in Myanmar, Palestine, Egypt and even in Iran. Even though the main reason for the tensions in these regions today is some of the steps that England has taken (or has not taken) in the past century, loyalty (even admiration in most places) to the English and its culture is as strong as ever.

England, which brought Myanmar to its current situation by laying the groundwork for the current conditions of the Rohingya Muslims, impresses the Islamic world once again by “cornering” Nobel-winning leader Aung San Suu Kyi through BBC; it makes people watch the news regarding the region through its own sources.

The English political system, which brought the Muslims to tears by paving the path for a hijab-wearing female to be president in Singapore, also enjoys directing anger toward the U.S. and the Jews in Palestine even though it is the perpetrator there, too.

The question “Even though it [England] has colonialized, how does it manage to impress people?” is probably the primary question on the way to understanding English politics. And the answer is probably this: “It leaves the places it has colonialized after establishing a certain system; this system works perfectly as long as an alternative system is not developed and it guarantees loyalty to the English.” Yes, this is certainly the answer.

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