Halimah's rise is Singapore's story

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addresses crowd at Halimah Yacob's inauguration

President Halimah Yacob's rise to the highest office of the land reaffirms founding father Lee Kuan Yew's vow in the very early hours of independence on Aug 9, 1965, that Singapore "would not be a Malay nation, a Chinese nation nor an Indian nation", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

When the first prime minister made this pledge, the nation had a Malay head of state: Mr Yusof Ishak, who died in his third term in 1970, at the age of 60.

Madam Halimah is Singapore's first Malay president after 47 years and its firstfemale head of state.

Addressing the 200 guests at the Istana during her inauguration ceremony, Mr Lee said: "President Yusof Ishak symbolised, visibly, that though we had been forced out of Malaysia primarily because we were a Chinese-majority city, independent Singapore would never in turn suppress its own non-Chinese minorities. We chose the nobler dream: A multiracial, multi-religious Singapore.

"Madam President, half a century later, you symbolise, visibly, that Singapore will persevere with this dream," he said, adding this has become more urgent in light of regional and global trends.

"In an age when ethnic nationalism is rising, extremist terrorism sows distrust and fear, and exclusivist ideologies deepen communal and religious fault lines, here in Singapore, we will resist this tide.

"Here, the majority will make extra efforts to ensure that minorities enjoy equal rights. That is something special, precious and fragile."

Now, the nation will regularly have a symbol "who can look like president Benjamin Sheares, a Eurasian; president S R Nathan, an Indian; president Tony Tan, a Chinese; and President Halimah Yacob, a Malay and a woman".

This was the "compelling reason" the Government amended the Constitution to reserve the presidency for a community that has not held the post for five terms, he added.

Mr Lee also said Madam Halimah's life story - from "hardship and deprivation" to success and giving back to society - reflects the Singapore story.

"Your life story symbolises the sort of society that we aspire to be, and reminds us that the Singapore story is one of hope and opportunity," he said.

"In Singapore, no matter where we begin in life, if we work hard, we will have ample chances to do well; and when we make good, we have a responsibility in turn to help others around us."

Mr Lee said he had no doubt Madam Halimah will unify Singaporeans, like Mr Yusof did.

"You, too, will strengthen our sense of nationhood. You, too, will be our president," he said.

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