Published:  01:13 AM, 14 September 2017

Women in high political office


Singapore has elected its first woman President. Halima Yacob, a former speaker of Singapore's parliament, will for the next few years serve as head of state for her country. There is little question that it is a singular honour for her to be elected to high office through dint of merit and perseverance. Yacob thus joins that important and exclusive club of women who have been playing leading roles in their countries for the past many years, even decades. The participation of women in Bangladesh's national politics is a point that we can cite here. At present we have women in position as Prime Minister, Speaker of the Jatiyo Sangsad and minister for agriculture. The leaders of the BNP and the Jatiyo Party are women who have made places for themselves in national politics.

In neighbouring India, the recent cabinet reshuffle has placed Nirmala Sitharaman as the country's new defence minister. She has already begun making waves through the decisiveness she means to bring into the job. In the United Kingdom, despite the debacle she went through at the general election earlier this year, Theresa May has continued to do a fairly good job in her approach to Brexit. Over there in the United States, the biggest disappointment was Hillary Clinton's unexpected defeat at the presidential election last year, though whether she truly lost is something that will emerge from Bob Mueller's inquiry into the Trump campaign's Russia links. But there are other women in America who go on wielding great influence in public life. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi is one of them. There is too the abrasive Nikki Haley at the United Nations.

In Chile, which for years under the despotic Pinochet regime was steeped in darkness, Michele Bachelet serves her second stint in presidential office with finesse. One could say much the same about Cristina Kirchner, the former Argentine president. Of course, there have been some disappointments along the way in the Americas. Dilma Rousseff, incorruptible at the personal level, was forced from Brazil's presidency by a band of opposition lawmakers against whom there are huge stacks of corruption charges.

Her successor Michel Temer is busy trying to ward off impeachment and removal from office. In South Korea, the light that shone over the country through the election of Park Gyun-hye as president soon dimmed with her prosecution for corruption and eventual removal from office. In Thailand, an entrenched military junta went after the elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, with a vengeance. Shinawatra has escaped to Dubai, where the generals cannot touch her.

The rise of women in politics has been spectacular. Yet their performance in office, particularly in the case of some of them, has been a mixed record. Halima Yacob is a figurehead, which means she will not run the government and will stay above the fray. Even so, her election is a sign of how purposefully women are stamping their marks in politics around the world. The world, as the more lyrical minded among us would say, is a-changin'.


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