As all the 91 members of the 13th Parliament assembled for the first time for the opening of Parliament yesterday, they were reminded of the need to set aside party divides.
Shortly after being re-elected Speaker of Parliament, Madam Halimah Yacob called on both sides of the House to face the challenges looming on the horizon together.
The global economic uncertainties and unprecedented challenges to Singapore's safety and security can be overcome only by the collective resolve and strong determination of all Singaporeans, she said.
And parliamentarians must lead the way: "Regardless of the party that we represent, or the interests that we wish to champion, we are first and foremost the representatives of the people, and we must act in their best interest." MPs said her call for unity probably anticipates more intense debates in the House in the coming days.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, in her first speech as Leader of the House, said she welcomed "sincere, serious debate from members" when discussing vital issues affecting all Singaporeans.
SINCERE DEBATE WELCOME
The coming session of Parliament will present us with many difficult but necessary decisions. To provide Singaporeans with quality living, our infrastructure and landscape must be refreshed, our economy must continue to be dynamic and our social safety nets must be strengthened... We must do all these amid an uncertain global environment, uncertain internal challenges, including those of a changing demographic with a fast ageing population.
These concerns are complex and there is no straightforward way to address them all. Facing up to them would involve making trade-offs and there will be energetic debate in this House on the course of action we must take. We welcome sincere, serious debate from members as we discuss these vital issues affecting all Singaporeans, decide on the future that we want to create and launch the next chapter of our country's story together.
LEADER OF THE HOUSE AND MINISTER FOR CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH GRACE FU, urging MPs to discuss Singapore's challenges sincerely and seriously.
SPEAK FROM THE HEART
Make speeches that are honest, sincere and heartfelt. There is no need to play to the gallery. It is much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic, so you should figure out what's important to your message and speak from your heart... Regardless of the party that we represent, or the interests that we wish to champion, we are first and foremost the representatives of the people, and must act in their best interest. We certainly have our work pretty much cut out for us.
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE HALIMAH YACOB, in a thank you speech to MPs after being elected Speaker
Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said that as Parliament will see intense debates over where Singapore will be heading in the next 50 years, the role of the Speaker will be all the more important.
But there was little sign yesterday of the heat of last year's general election, which saw the People's Action Party win 70 per cent of the vote.
The election of Madam Halimah as Speaker was unanimous, returning her to the post to which she was first elected in 2013.
MPs from both sides of the House lauded her re-election, noting in their speeches or during chats at the reception afterwards that she was a trailblazer for women. Three MPs rose to support her election as Speaker.
In Malay, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said Madam Halimah endeavoured to be fair and just to every MP regardless of their political views, while Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) praised her in Tamil for always helping those of her constituents who were in need. Ms Tin, in Mandarin, said Madam Halimah was a role model for women here.
Preceding their speeches, members of the PAP and the Workers' Party (WP) took their oath of allegiance to the country side by side during the afternoon ceremony.
The 89 elected MPs took it in groups - 12 in all - except for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He was followed by other members of his Cabinet in order of general seniority, and then by officeholders and backbenchers.
Non-Constituency MPs were sworn in last.
The MPs were also brought together by language, with the WP's Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC) taking his oath in Malay alongside PAP MPs Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) and Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).
Three MPs took their oath in Mandarin: WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), and the PAP's Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC).
The PAP's Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and the WP's Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), seated next to each other, found common ground in being new fathers and swopped stories on raising their young daughters.
Some differences from the 12th Parliament were visible: Ms Fu, in particular, brightened up the front bench, standing out in her vermillion suit jacket in a row of men in black and grey.
The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's absence in the House was palpable, and Madam Halimah paid tribute to the founding Prime Minister, saying: "I am sure succeeding generations of members will continue to be inspired by his work and vast contributions to this House."
She encouraged MPs to speak from the heart, quoting Mr Lee, who had said: "You must have convictions. If you don't have convictions, you are going in for personal glory or honour or publicity or popularity, forget it."
Urging them to keep their speeches short, she noted wryly that a speech's length was no indication of its impact.
"Perhaps, if it's succinct I can see more of your hands when you put them up," she quipped to laughter. MPs have to raise their hands to be called on if they want to raise a point after a speech.
One seat was conspicuously vacant - that of the WP's Lee Li Lian.
She was offered a Non-Constituency MP position after failing to defend her seat in Punggol East in the 2015 General Election, but declined to take it up. The decision on whether to fill the third NCMP seat now rests with Parliament.
Proud parents, spouses and children of the MPs mingled at the reception, with Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David's 87-year-old grandmother taking a photo with him and PM Lee.
At the other end of the age spectrum was 17-year-old Ryan, son of new MP Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).
Said the student who was in Parliament for the first time: "I've seen my father help people at community centres for many years and I'm happy he has a bigger role and can help more people now."
NCMP Dennis Tan was also seen introducing himself to some of the older PAP MPs. The friendly atmosphere, however, would not stand in the way of making him fulfil his role as an opposition MP, he said. "I think both parties will do their job and speak up for Singaporeans."