SG2015: Insight and hindsight

Two events that stand out this year are the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's golden jubilee as an independent nation. Above, left: Mourners braving the rain outside the NTUC headquarters at 1 Marina Boulevard as they wait
The SG50 logo, denoting Singapore's 50th birthday, on display at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands Plaza. Two events that stand out this year are the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's golden jubilee as an independent nation. PHOTO: ST FILE
Two events that stand out this year are the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore's golden jubilee as an independent nation. Above, left: Mourners braving the rain outside the NTUC headquarters at 1 Marina Boulevard as they wait
Mourners braving the rain outside the NTUC headquarters at 1 Marina Boulevard as they wait for Mr Lee's cortege to pass.PHOTO: ST FILE

This year has been an eventful one, but Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death made the most impact

Years from now, observers will no doubt look back at 2015 as an eventful year for Singapore's political scene. Singapore turned 50 and its big, exuberant party was supposed to have been the key event of the year packed full of activities.

There was also the long-anticipated general election which many were expecting to be held this year.

But both events were eclipsed, to some extent, by the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, 91, in March.

The late Mr Lee had been hospitalised for pneumonia in February, and his condition worsened by the day. Regular updates about his condition cushioned Singaporeans to some extent when his death on March 23 was announced. But his passing still sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief that saw half a million Singaporeans turning up at Parliament House to pay their respects. It also reminded people of the enormous achievements the pioneer leaders accomplished in just half a century, and stirred a patriotic fervour that would, some analysts argued, help boost the People's Action Party's showing at the Sept 11 General Election.

Analysts and opposition supporters alike had regarded this election as a coming out party for the opposition. Huge crowds turned up at the rallies of the Workers' Party, the strongest opposition contender, further buoying its confidence.

But on Polling Day, Singaporeans returned the ruling PAP to power, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong securing his strongest mandate yet of 69.9 per cent.

In February this year, the Government also announced Singapore's largest-ever Budget - with a total estimated expenditure of $68.2 billion - as it hastened its leftward shift towards a more compassionate and inclusive society.

This was also the year the ISIS threat hit home, as social media postings identified Singapore as a possible target for attacks.

Four Singaporeans were detained under the Internal Security Act for wanting to join the militant group.

The Sunday Times examines these highlights of 2015.


DEFYING THE ODDS FOR 50 YEARS

This year's National Day Parade saw an unprecedented feat of 20 F-16 fighter jets flying in formation over the Padang while forming the number 50.

This was a year of celebration, commemoration and reflection for Singapore, the nation that founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew described as "improbable (and) unlikely".

When Singapore was thrust into independence in 1965, following its expulsion from the Malaysian Federation, few believed it would overcome the economic, geopolitical and demographic forces lined up against it.

It was a little red dot in a dangerous part of the world, without natural resources or an army of its own. And its people, made up of recent immigrants, had a history of communal tensions.

READ MORE HERE


DAY OF MOURNING THAT BROUGHT SINGAPORE TOGETHER

The funeral cortege for Mr Lee Kuan Yew passing along Jalan Bukit Merah on March 29. Thousands of people, including the woman on the right, lined the cortege's route from Parliament House to Kent Ridge.

When news broke on March 23 that the nation's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had died in the wee hours of that morning, the dam that held back Singaporeans' hopes, wishes and worst fears broke.

People wept openly, waited for hours in long queues to pay their last respects and stood in the torrential rain along the funeral route to bid their final farewell to the man who played a pivotal role in bringing Singapore from Third World to First World in less than 50 years.

The swell of sorrow had been building up, with the Singapore General Hospital and Tanjong Pagar Community Club becoming a repository of flowers, cards and posters that expressed people's hopes and wishes for Mr Lee to get well.

READ MORE HERE


Shifting left, moving ahead

Then-Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, wrapping up the Budget debate, said the Government had "embarked on major moves to build a more inclusive society and mitigate inequalities". PAP MP Vikram Nair noted that Singapore had moved beyond the n

British boyband One Direction performed to screaming fans at the National Stadium in March, but the one direction that had Singapore MPs all abuzz during the Budget debate in the same month was the shift to the left in the country's social policies.

People's Action Party MP Alex Yam even invoked pop superstar Beyonce's 2006 ditty Irreplaceable - "To the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left" - to caution against overspending.

Fellow PAP MP Vikram Nair, however, noted that Singapore had moved beyond the notions of "left" and "right" to embrace ideas from both sides.

READ MORE HERE


Staying vigilant against the threat of ISIS

If 2014 was the year that terror group ISIS sent shockwaves around the world in declaring its self-styled caliphate, 2015 was the year Singaporeans were constantly reminded of the clear and present danger the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria poses.

Apart from global terror attacks that demonstrated the growing influence and reach of ISIS, and foiled plots targeting Malaysia's Parliament, social media postings this year identified Singapore as a possible target for attack.

Also, four Singaporeans were detained under the Internal Security Act for wanting to join the group.

READ MORE HERE


Lasting legacy of election that put a fresh spin to talk of 'new normal'

Jubilant PAP supporters with a poster of the East Coast GRC team, comprising Mr Lim Swee Say, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman and Ms Jessica Tan, at Bedok Stadium in September. The GRC was one that some analysts had believed could be the nex

An hour after polls closed on Sept 11, the usually reticent Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang gave a rare impromptu interview outside his town council office in Hougang.

Seated on a bench and with one arm draped over the backrest, he told The Straits Times that the party "should be able to retain" Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and that he believed it was doing "all right" in the contest to retain the Hougang and Punggol East single-seat wards.

Meanwhile, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say was holed up in the People's Action Party's (PAP's) Bedok branch in New Upper Changi Road for what looked like a long night ahead.

READ MORE HERE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'SG2015: INSIGHT AND HINDSIGHT'. Print Edition | Subscribe