The National Day Rally this year will break away from the one-man, very long speech that characterised the format which Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, introduced and which was continued by his two successors: Mr Goh Chok and Mr Lee Hsien Loong.
In the new arrangement, Mr Lee Jr will today have three ministers speak before he makes his annual address at 8pm.
The three ministers are Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State (MOS) (Education and Information, Communications and the Arts) Lawrence Wong and MOS (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Halimah Yacob. They will join PM Lee in spelling out challenges facing Singapore and how to address them.
They will also speak on topics of interest to them. For instance, Mr Wong will air his aspirations for Singapore and thoughts about building a stronger community and nation while Mdm Halimah said her focus “is likely to be on the importance of keeping hope alive and providing opportunities for all Singaporeans, regardless of their background, so that we can achieve our vision of a fair and just society”.
The three ministers will speak between 6:45pm and 7:30pm. Mr Wong and Mr Heng will speak in English with some Mandarin, and Mdm Halimah in English and Malay. PM Lee will speak from 8pm in Malay, Mandarin and English.
I’m delighted that Mr Lee has made this change; because unlike the era when Singaporeans were mesmerised by every word that the elder Mr Lee uttered at the rally, today’s folks have too many distractions. Shorter, sharper and smarter content and delivery are likely to hold attention better, especially when there is also variety in the orators, not a monologueby a soloist.
As for the choice of ministers to help warm up Singaporeans before the main actor takes centre stage, I think the selection is spot on to be a crowd pleaser.
First, crowd pleaser must be Mr Lawrence Wong, whom IMHO is the most likely to become the next Prime Minister, even though people in the know have said repeatedly that Messrs Tan Chuan Jin and Chan Chun Sing are also hot contenders.
Mr Wong’s outing at this year’s ND rally could be viewed as a kind of dress rehearsal for the real thing, somewhere down the road.
Second, the choice of Mdm Halimah Yacob is a 3-prong crowd pleaser, even though she will never become Prime Minister, at least not within the current political framework.
The first prong is that the tudung wearing Cik Halimah would appeal to the conservative Malay Muslims in her community, especially those who aspire to rise in the world in the Singapore context. She shows that being a Malay Muslim woman proud of her roots is no hindrance to making it in a Chinese-dominated and somewhat loudly Westernised Singapore society.
Her second prong is her appeal to the conservative feminist of all races who wants to be married, have children and have a career with maximum state support: Cik Halimah is both champion and role model.
Her third prong is for the PAP to show its rank and file that yes, you can be woman, Malay Muslim, conservative and not so glamourous as Ms Josephine Teo or Ms Grace Fu but you can still make it big in the party and government. After all, it’s Cik Halimah who is going to be the first woman from the PAP to address the ND Rally, not the other two ladies, OK!
As for the choice of Mr Heng, the ex-central banking chief and the current Minister for Education, his inclusion suggests (to me at least) as a nod to the upper middle-class Singaporeans who have made it but don’t belong to the coterie of successful citizens who blame the PAP for everything that displeases them in life! It helps too that he is the Min for Ed which widens his appeal to all those with kids and grand kids or simply hoping for them. This large wedge of Sgreans, falling TFR not withstanding, want to know what’s in the ever morphing, ever dynamic education landscape for the young!
So after the appetisers, what main course would PM Lee deliver?
He could be the magician who draws the threads of wisdom spun first by the “chorus” of three and turn them into a blanket of many colors for SGreans to picnic upon? Then he could unpack the picnic basket of goodies to tide us over the 12 months until the next National Day Rally?
Whatever Mr Lee does, today’s rally will go down in SG history for breaking with tradition. Or should i say “Tradition Made Better” in the tagline that once belonged to Fraser & Neave? :D