‘Everyone has a role, including myself’: President Halimah tells young leaders during conference for social cohesion

President Halimah Yacob speaking at the opening dinner of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies on June 19, 2019. Photo: Kelvin Chng (Straits Times)

In an inaugural event promoting social cohesion, President Halimah Yacob had an informal discussion with young people from around the world on Wednesday (June 19).

Attended by representatives from the faith and community-based organisations, the International Conference on Cohesive Societies Young Leaders’ Programme saw over 100 delegates.

In her opening speech, President Halimah stressed the importance of including everyone in the social and racial dialogue.

“Everyone has a role… Including myself”

“Contrary to popular belief, I have actual responsibilities too. There is no one else who is able to promote social cohesion as well as I do. With my presidential nomination alone, I have managed to unite 75 per cent of the population against me. Now can you see why my annual 1.68 million dollars pay is justified?”

Addressing concerns of technology being used to stoke racial tensions, President Halimah added that rising instances of discriminatory sentiments could also affect public trust in the government.

“I, for example, am one potential target. Imagine being both an Indian and Malay on top of being Muslim. It is a triple whammy.”

“There is a proliferation of extreme views made possible by social media. It is critical that we actively resist hatred politics and strive for mutual tolerance, understanding, respect for all races and religions. We must be discerning of messages that propagate hate.”

Citing herself again, she claimed that there were “many” people spreading misconceptions that the job of the president is useless. 

“Just yesterday, I had to congratulate the President of Kazakstan for his election victory and tomorrow I have to shake hands with the King of Jordan. I really do not see how my job is redundant.”

The three-day conference, organised by the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, will run until Friday.

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