SG100 needs a nation of lion-hearted leaders and citizens

For Singapore to continue to do well, we must have that resolve to defend this land. We must have that will to make Singapore endure and to prevail and we must stand as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

After 50 years, this faith, this sense of togetherness and purpose is stronger than before. The Singapore spirit ignites when we celebrate our successes together. When our athletes made us proud at the SEA Games, like Shanti Pereira who won our first sprint gold in 42 years, or Ashley Liew, the marathon runner. After the other runners took a wrong turn, he slowed down and waited for them to catch up and showed sportsmanship and class.

The Singapore spirit shines when we help one another in times of need. When we were beset by severe haze in 2013, many people came forward to distribute masks and help the less abled. When a man was run over by a truck recently, people rushed forward to push the truck, lift it up and help the man out. After a bomb exploded in Bangkok last week, Singaporeans living in Bangkok contacted the embassy to offer help.

Our spirit shone brightest when Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away.

Hundreds of thousands lined up, day and night, to pay their respects at Parliament House and at many community tribute sites. Mr Lee's passing brought out so much in us. People queued patiently, they let children and seniors through, businesses provided free chairs and refreshments to those queueing up, volunteers helped out, distributing umbrellas, food, drinks, and when the gun carriage carried Mr Lee on his final journey from Parliament House to the University Cultural Centre, tens of thousands lined the streets and then it started to rain. What do we do? Everyone stayed put. It was like the 1968 National Day Parade when it poured on the Parade after it had formed up.

The funeral procession started on time into the pouring rain. I was deeply moved to see the crowds stand their ground paying their last respects to Mr Lee. Teardrops and raindrops fell together. For all of us, this was a historic moment shared as one Singapore family.

We were mourning Mr Lee's passing but also affirming what he stood for and celebrating what he had achieved. That day, something changed in us. Our shared moment of sorrow bonded us. Now we do not have to struggle to find words to define the Singapore spirit or to say what being Singaporean is. Now we know that we are Singaporean.

TEAM SINGAPORE

Fifty years ago, our challenges seemed insurmountable. As a small country, we could easily have flickered and faded into the darkness of history. But our pioneers were made of stern stuff, they were galvanised. Many born elsewhere but decided to make Singapore their home and their lifelong passion. They dug in their heels and built a nation together.

Fifty years on, our challenges are still formidable but they are far from insurmountable. Those people who feel daunted and think Singapore's best days are behind us, they are wrong.

Our best days will always be ahead of us, provided we continue to have a strong team, a team of lions and the lion-hearted, leaders and the people.

We have had such a good team so far, started with Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues, together with the pioneer generation, who built Singapore and made sure that Singapore would thrive beyond them. They handed over to Mr Goh Chok Tong and the second generation of Singaporeans 25 years ago now.

Our generation inherited Singapore from them and, together, we took Singapore further forward to reach SG50.

A NEW CHAPTER

In the last 10 years, we have written perhaps, another chapter of the Singapore story. If you have been following my National Day Rallies, you will know what we have done together.

We said we would build more beautiful homes that Singaporeans could afford, and we did.

This is Punggol 21. This is the view from Dawson, I think it is taken from the air terrace, I went up to take a look, the city rejuvenated. We have continued the kampung spirit. During Ramadan, neighbours break fast together along HDB corridors. All over the island, volunteers have beautified our shared spaces with Communities in Bloom.

We said we would strengthen our safety nets, and we did.

We introduced Workfare, Silver Support, ComCare, we built new hospitals - Ng Teng Fong Hospital has opened since my last Rally. Community hospitals have also opened, this is Ren Ci, and Yishun Community Hospital will soon be ready.

We have made healthcare more accessible and affordable. We have CHAS (Community Health Assist Scheme) the blue card and the orange card. And we have the PG (pioneer generation) card. With MediShield Life, Singaporeans have lifelong healthcare coverage. We helped each other too, going door-to-door delivering milk powder and food to needy families. Seniors have kept active, exercising to stay fit and healthy as they age.

We said we would create more pathways for children to chase rainbows, and we did.

We built NorthLight and Assumption Pathway for students who failed their PSLE, because we believe in our young and we will never give up on them. We built the School of the Arts, the Sports School, the School of Science and Technology to cater to varied talents. We built first-class campuses for our ITE colleges, including ITE College Central, where we are now. We built new universities, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), UniSIM.

If they were not first-class institutions, Chen Long (Jackie Chan) would not have given us these beautiful old Chinese buildings to be part of SUTD. But, we are special and we will keep it so.

We said that we would transform our city, and we did.

Changi Airport is upgrading, Project Jewel, T4 and T5 are coming up. The Gardens by the Bay are an iconic and popular attraction. We have beautiful park connectors and ABC waterways, like Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. I took Prime Minister Tony Abbott there, the Australian PM, to show him how Singaporeans live and the natural environment that we all enjoy. I think it is worth showing off Bishan- Ang Mo Kio Park. Our volunteers have been active too, preserving nature and heritage on Pulau Ubin, keeping our rivers clean.

We said we would transform Marina Bay, and we did.

This was Marina Bay in 2005 with Marina South still empty land and at my Rally that year, I promised you that by our Jubilee year, Marina Bay would be special and this is Marina Bay today. We did this together. We had a vision, we believed in it and, together, we realised our dreams.

In the last 10 years, we built on what we inherited. We put brick on brick, we climbed step by step, we kept Singapore special, delivered results for Singaporeans.

How did we do that? Mr Lee and his team planned beyond their terms, beyond their lifetimes. They nurtured the next generation of leaders and the next generation of Singaporeans. They taught their successors to do the same and this is what my team and I have sought to do for the last 10 years.

We have served you to the best of our ability, you have got to know us well, we have walked this SG50 journey together with you.

My team and I take very seriously our responsibility to make sure that Singapore lasts beyond us. My core team are already in our late 50s and 60s. We will not be around forever and we must have the next team ready in the wings.

The nucleus is there - brought in at the last elections and earlier. They have taken charge of important programmes like Our Singapore Conversation, like SG50 as well as different ministries, including difficult ones.

They have connected with Singaporeans young and old and participated fully in the major decisions which we have made. But we need to reinforce them, to round out the team to give Singapore the best possible chance of succeeding into the future. And that is what I need to do in the next election.

Singapore is at a turning point.

We have just completed 50 successful years. Now we are starting out on our next 50 years of nationhood.

Soon, I will be calling elections to ask for your mandate to take Singapore into this next phase of our nation-building.

And this election will be critical.

You will be deciding who is governing Singapore for the next five years but, more than that, you will be choosing the team who will be working with you for the next 15-20 years. You will be setting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years. You will be determining the future for Singapore.

What will this future be?

Will Singapore become an ordinary country, with intractable problems, slow or even negative growth; overspending; heavy burdens for our children; gridlocked government, unable to act? There are so many examples around the world.

Or will Singapore always stay special for our children? A multiracial society strengthened by diversity, not splintered by divisions. A rugged society where everyone strives to do his best, but looks out for his fellow men, a people who live up to our song One People, One Nation, One Singapore.

If you are proud of what we have achieved together, if you support what we want to do ahead, the future that we are building, then please support me, please support my team, because my team and I cannot do anything just by ourselves.

We have to do it with you in order to do it for you. In fact, we have to do it together, in order to do it for all of us, to do a good job for Singapore, so that we can keep Singapore special for many years to come, another 50 years.

Can I be sure that Singapore will still be doing well, still be special, come SG100? Nobody can be sure. Nobody can promise that we will all live happily ever after.

We all have our hopes and fears, our views and our guesses. One opinion that I know everybody would have liked to know was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's. He is gone now, but some friends did ask him this question not too long ago.

In his old age, a group of friends would regularly take Mr Lee out for meals. The conversation would flow, and Mr Lee would get a chance to see a different bit of the Singapore he had built. The last time they had dinner together was in January this year, shortly before he was taken to hospital. After Mr Lee died, one of the friends wrote to me, describing what happened. Let me read her letter.

"As it was the start of 2015, we talked at length about the celebrations for SG50. We took turns to encourage Mr Lee to attend as many SG50 events as possible. Actually, we hoped he would be there for the SG50 National Day Parade. Mr Lee listened to our exhortations, but stopped short of saying yes to our suggestions. At each of our gatherings, it had become a tradition to ask Mr Lee, 'Will there be a Singapore many years from now?' Once, Mr Lee said 'Maybe.' On another, Mr Lee said, 'Yes, if there is no corruption.'

"This was classic Mr Lee - ever believing in Singapore, yet ever cognisant that there was always work to be done, that we should never take things for granted. Continuing with our tradition and in the spirit of SG50, that evening we asked him, 'Will there be a Singapore 50 years from now?' Mr Lee's answer took us all by surprise.

"That evening, for the first time, Mr Lee said, 'Of course, there will be… even better!'"

Mr Lee did not make it to the SG50 NDP. But we were happy to have the three surviving ministers who signed the Separation Agreement at the Parade. Encik Othman Wok who is here with us this evening and Mr Ong Pang Boon and Mr Jek Yeun Thong. They sat in a place of honour, next to Mr Lee's chair. When we watched the video tribute to Mr Lee, we were all moved. We could sense his spirit with us, and in us. Mr Lee would have been proud of what he had built, if he had seen the NDP.

Now he is no longer here, we are on our own, but we are ready. Our resolve to defend ourselves is unquestioned. Our spirit and confidence is robust. Our unity and identity as a people has never been stronger. At the NDP, we showed the world what stuff Singapore is made of.

For me, there were two special moments in the memorable Parade. One was when Kit Chan sang Home. She sang beautifully, she always does. But what most amazed me was the singing from the crowd. All round the Padang, we could hear our voices lustily singing. "This is home, truly" and never before have we done that.

The second moment was after the Parade. The last item, the kids were in bright LED costumes putting on an energetic and spectacular performance. I went down to the Padang afterwards to meet them. They were in high spirits. Their faces shone with excitement and hope.

I thought to myself these are the faces of the future of Singapore. Fifty years from now, SG100, they will be about 60 years old - still vigorous with many more active years ahead of them.

I hope they will be back at the Padang celebrating again, remembering SG50, congratulating one another on how much they have done and how far they have come and looking at more young, radiant faces of children and many grandchildren and singing Majulah Singapura!

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'SG100 needs a nation of lion-hearted leaders and citizens'. Print Edition | Subscribe