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A Malay president for all races, please

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Minister Yaacob says candidates for presidential election must promote multiracialism

Aspiring candidates for the presidential election have to see the office not as a job but a calling, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

They must be able to reach out to all Singaporeans and uphold multiracialism.

"Whoever is willing to step forward to take on the job must continue to carry the ethos of multiracialism, which is important," said Dr Yaacob.

"He or she must continue to do their best to rally all Singaporeans, not just the Malay community."

Dr Yaacob, also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, was speaking to reporters at the inaugural Madrasah Student Awards ceremony.

He reiterated that he was not interested in running for the presidency, a point he made in an interview with Malay daily Berita Harian in January.

Yesterday marked the start of the presidential election process, as prospective candidates can pick up application forms to certify that they are eligible to stand in the election and are members of the Malay community.

This year's election, to be held in September, is the first reserved for Malay candidates, following changes to the law last year to ensure that the major races are periodically represented in the office of the president, to reflect Singapore's multiracial society.

Singapore will have its first Malay president in over 46 years after Mr Yusof Ishak, the first president of the country, died in office in 1970.

"This is an important institution. We are making this tweak primarily because we want to preserve the multiracial nature of our institution," Dr Yaacob said.

"I see this person as not just being qualified to do the job which is needed, but as a symbol of Singapore. That symbol of multiracialism must continue to prevail. This person must be able to reach out and be seen by all Singaporeans as a person for Singapore."

As a Cabinet minister, Dr Yaacob is one of several individuals eligible to stand in the presidential election because he meets the criteria required for those with public-sector experience.

Another is former Cabinet minister Abdullah Tarmugi, who told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he is not likely to run.

But founder and chief executive officer of Second Chance Properties Mohamed Salleh Marican told The Straits Times he plans to stand - though he does not automatically qualify as his company's shareholders' equity is below the threshold of $500 million required for candidates from the private sector.

However, the Presidential Elections Committee has the discretion to make an exception if it is satisfied that a candidate can carry out the functions of the office.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, widely seen as a front runner, did not respond to requests for comment.

Private-hire driver Shirwin Eu was the first to collect application forms yesterday, arriving at the Elections Department building on Prinsep Link at about 10.30am.

The 34-year-old seemed undeterred by the fact that the election is reserved for Malay candidates - or by the qualifying criteria.

"I think there's always a chance for the Government to review its intentions," he said, citing the legal challenge filed by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock over whether the upcoming presidential election should be a reserved one.

Mr Eu had also collected forms ahead of the Bukit Batok by-election last year and the September 2015 General Election.

But he did not file the papers in Bukit Batok and, in 2015, did not have the required signatures to contest.

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