Singapore appoints first woman president

Halimah Yacob is surrounded by supporters on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Singapore. Yacob was named Singapore's eighth president on Wednesday without a vote. She is to take office at a later date. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Updated 13 September 2017
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Singapore appoints first woman president

SINGAPORE: Singapore named a former speaker of Parliament as the multicultural city-state’s first woman president on Wednesday while critics expressed dismay that other candidates were disqualified and the election went uncontested.
Aiming to strengthen a sense of inclusivity, Singapore had decreed the presidency, a largely ceremonial six-year post, would be reserved for candidates from the minority Malay community this time.
The returning officer declared Halimah Yacob, 63, elected on Wednesday after nominations closed.
Of the four other applicants, two were not Malays and two were not qualified to contest, the elections department said on Monday. Halimah had automatically qualified because she held a senior public post for over three years.
If the election had been held, all citizens would have been eligible to vote.
Several critics went online to protest against the stringent eligibility rules, which include a stipulation that a candidate from the private sector should have headed a company with paid-up capital of at least S$500 million ($370 million).
The prime minister’s office said it had no comment on criticism of the election process.
“It would have restored some of the lost moral authority by her winning against credible opponents through popular votes,” said opposition politician Yee Jenn Jong in a blog post.
“She is, after all, a veteran in elections and has won handsomely in the four general elections she stood in.”
The rights group Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) said it hoped “more will be done to improve access to politics for all of Singapore’s women.”
“Unfortunately, the process that led to this outcome has not reflected our hopes,” it said in a statement posted online.
Displays of dissent are rare in Singapore, one of the richest and most politically stable countries in the world. It has been ruled by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since independence in 1965 and the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, is the son of the country’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
In the 2015 general election — held months after the death of Lee Kuan Yew — the PAP won almost 70 percent of the popular vote and swept all but six of parliament’s 89 seats.
The incoming president, who is to be sworn in on Thursday, appeared unfazed by the controversy.
“Although this is a reserved election, I’m not a reserved president,” Halimah said in a speech at the election nominations office. “I’m a president for everyone.
“Whether or not there is an election or no election, my promise is to serve everyone and I will serve with great vigour, with a lot of hard work, with the same passion and commitment.”


US to withdraw from UN rights council: UN officials

Updated 20 min 43 sec ago
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US to withdraw from UN rights council: UN officials

  • Washington accuses UN Human Rights Council of bias against Israel.
  • UN rights chief: "The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable".

UNITED NATIONS: The United States will announce on Tuesday that it is withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, which it accuses of bias against Israel, UN officials said.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley will make the announcement at a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington at 5:00 p.m. (2100 GMT).
Haley has repeatedly threatened to quit the Geneva-based body, established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to comment ahead of the announcement, saying: “We will wait to hear the details of that decision before commenting fully.”
“What is clear, is that the secretary-general is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of the UN and the active participation of all member states in that architecture.”
UN officials privately confirmed they were expecting the US decision to quit the rights body.
The withdrawal followed strong UN criticism of Trump’s policy to separate migrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Monday “the thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”
Human Rights Watch criticized the move, warning that Washington’s absence at the top UN body would put the onus on other governments to address the world’s most serious rights problems.
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” said HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth.
“The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”
US criticism stems from the fact that Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item, known as Item 7, at the rights council, meaning its treatment of the Palestinians comes under scrutiny at each of the body’s three annual sessions.
The United Stated refused to join the body when it was created in 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, Trump’s current hawkish and UN-skeptic national security adviser.
It was only after Barack Obama came to power that Washington joined the council in 2009.
Since Trump took office, the United States has quit the UN cultural agency UNESCO, cut UN funding and announced plans to quit the UN-backed Paris climate agreement.