Governance of a City-State
The 2015 NDR – what it meant to me

The 2015 National Day Rally speech will be remembered as the one where younger generations of Singaporeans have been placed at the forefront. I thought there were two things that would resonate the most with younger Singaporeans.

First, Prime Minister (PM) Lee spoke at some length about Singapore’s external challenges, highlighting issues faced by our neighbours; Malaysia and Indonesia, such as religions and racial tensions and violent extremism. He urged Singaporeans to “be alive to our external environment, as it is a fundamental reality for a ‘little red dot’

Younger Singaporeans have been brought up in an environment of relative peace and prosperity. It is easy to take our current peaceful state of affairs – which the PAP can take credit for given the government’s focus on defence and foreign affairs – for granted. To young Singaporeans who have their doubts about the necessity of National Service and our country’s defence spending, it is a reminder that their service is important. It is through much effort developing Singapore’s hard and soft power that we are noticed and taken seriously on the international stage. Young Singaporeans looking to their individual future and that of their families will see these efforts including National Service as integral to our well-being.

Secondly, the PM focused on the needs of young Singaporean couples. The changes to housing and population policies show that the government has an eye on the future even as it shows gratitude to the pioneer generation. Buying a home and starting a family are two of the biggest financial commitments that a young Singaporean couple will undertake, and the increased help from the government in terms of housing grants as well as monetary incentives for having children will definitely be appreciated.

With women being part of Singapore’s precious human capital, starting a family must be viewed as a shared responsibility between the mother and the father. In the IPS Perception of Policies Survey (POPS) on marriage and parenthood published in July 2015, 64.8% of couples between the ages of 21 to 29 years perceived paternity leave to be influential in their decisions on child- bearing. In that regard, the one week increase may be too conservative but accepting that Singapore already faces the problem of labour shortage, these baby steps are result of the need to balance the needs of the economy today against social values and the economic needs of the country tomorrow.

Mr Lee was right to say that the root of the population problem is not policies but the people – families and children who make the final decisions on family issues. This two-pronged approach of providing tangible benefits as well as spreading responsibility will help young Singaporean couples feel more assured that raising a family in Singapore is not as tough or expensive it has appeared to be.

Let us see if these are enough to earn a strong mandate from this group of Singaporeans for the incumbent in the upcoming general election.

Brendon Wong is an intern. He is reading Politics and International Relations at the University of Bristol.



PM Lee took the opportunity at the SG50 edition of the NDR to provide his interpretation of Singapore’s path to exceptionalism since Independence, and how crucial this trait is to taking the country forward in the next fifty years.

Mr Lee said that Singapore became exceptional due to its commitment to three core values – multiracialism, the idea of self-reliance and mutual support, and the social compact between the government and the people. In addition, Singaporeans have put up with the pain of difficult but necessary policies, such as when land was acquired for public use, and more recently, sharing their space with an inflow of foreign labour who have benefited the economy. The difficult decisions on this are discussed as the government views that it will not sugar-coat the realities but it acts with Singaporean’s interests at heart. This, from the PAP’s perspective, is what will continue to make Singapore special.

The PM assured Singaporeans that help would be given to them as they continued their pursuit of exceptionalism. No one would be left behind in the process. Singapore would remain special by further developing its pool of labour with the pre and post-employment training systems. A system of multiple pathways for success will allow Singaporeans to fulfil their full potential and scale up the ladder of social mobility. Singapore’s comparatively high percentage of home ownership in the world, as well as the fact that its people live side by side in ethnic harmony, where there are no ghettos or slums, will continue as the government makes it easier for even more to own their own homes. Allowing even those in rental housing to own their own homes is the PAP’s way of tempering economic inequalities that have arisen.

There are groups that do not agree that the PAP’s version of Singapore has been exceptional in certain aspects. One common theme across most opposition parties is that a more democratic system would benefit Singapore. By this reckoning, greater political competition would introduce checks and balances, cause the government to heed the aspirations of the people as well as hear more diverse views aired in Parliament. In addition, the Democratic Progressive Party has said that the incumbent PAP government does not have a monopoly on talent and ideas. The Singapore Democratic Party and Reform Party argue that Singaporeans should have a greater share in more of the country’s economic success. The Workers’ Party has argued that policies have been reformed as a result of a stronger opposition presence in Parliament.

Now that the NDR is over and we are moving toward our next general election, each party has the task of convincing voters of the team that could take Singapore forward in the years ahead. May the best team win.

Debbie Soon is a Research Associate. View her profile here



The 2015 National Day Rally covered much of the usual ground when it comes to race, religion and culture. In his speech in Malay, PM Lee once again highlighted the success of a few Malay-Muslim individuals as evidence of the socio-economic progress of the minority community and reaffirmed the government’s understanding of how important a role Islam plays in the life of the community. This understanding extends even to financially supporting the Madrasahs in their instruction of secular subjects. In his speech in Mandarin, the Prime Minister reaffirmed the historical role the Chinese commercial class played in not only helping the Chinese community but in building social cohesion by extending a helping hand to other ethnic groups. The PM then went on to reaffirm the continued cultural and educational importance of Mandarin in nation-building.

The above points are indeed old hat, but are politically important enough to our nation-building as to bear repeating whenever there is occasion, just as is the point that we can never take our cultural and ethnic peace for granted. Despite the complacency of those who would claim that race and religion are no longer a problem in Singapore, PM Lee only has to point across the Causeway at the religious and racial tensions playing out in Malaysia, erupting as it did recently in the Low Yat Plaza riot.

Nevertheless, this time round, PM Lee’s perspective proved to be more global. He pointed out that not only are people everywhere vulnerable to extremist ideologies like ISIS’, but there has been in the last 20 years a worldwide increase in religiosity, of people taking their religions, whatever they may be, more seriously than before.

In this admission, comes a different point of view about race and religion than we usually hear from our leaders. The issues we have about race and religion are neither uniquely national nor regional, but must be seen in a more global context. With this perspective, we get a better idea of how these issues are perennial and without objective final solutions. That we are dealing better with these problems than most is something we must be proud of, but neither should we be unduly hard on ourselves that we have not definitively solved them.

Just as we have learnt to deal with the vagaries of the global economy with our willingness to adapt, so must we learn to deal with international developments in religiosity and race relations with the same agility and flexibility.

Dr Johannis Auri Bin Abdul Aziz is a Research Fellow. View his profile here

Photo via PM Lee’s Facebook

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