Fifty years on: 'Stronger as one people'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had shared a short clip of what went on behind the scenes at the recording of his National Day Message.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had shared a short clip of what went on behind the scenes at the recording of his National Day Message. SCREENGRAB: YOUTUBE.COM

The full text of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Message

My Fellow Singaporeans,

Fifty years ago, on this very night, Singapore was on the eve of a momentous change. The Cabinet had already signed the Separation Agreement. The Government Printers were busy printing the Separation Agreement and the Proclamation of Independence in a special Government Gazette. The Commissioner of Police and the Commander of the army units had been told by the Malaysian Government to take orders from the new government the next day. But all this happened in strict secrecy. Our forefathers went to bed oblivious of what was about to happen, still for the time being citizens of Malaysia.

Then morning came. The 9th of August 1965. Our world changed. At 10am, a radio announcer read the Proclamation. Singapore had left Malaysia and would "forever be a sovereign, democratic and independent nation". The Republic of Singapore was born.

People were apprehensive. No one knew if we could make it on our own. Our economy was not yet viable, much less vibrant. We had practically no resources, and no independent armed forces. Around noon on that first day, Mr Lee Kuan Yew gave a press conference on TV. He broke down halfway, unable to contain his emotions. It was, he said, "a moment of anguish".

But that moment of anguish turned into a lifetime of determination to forge a path for this island nation. At the end of the press conference, Mr Lee made a promise to Singaporeans. He said: "We are going to be a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set an example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everyone will have his place, equal: language, culture, religion."

From that break, we began building a nation. And what a journey it has been. It started with the first generation of leaders convincing our pioneer generation that Singapore could succeed as a sovereign country. Together, leaders and the people - the lions and the lion-hearted - fought with unwavering determination to secure our foundations. After them, younger generations picked up the baton and took Singapore further.

Year after year, Singapore progressed. Along the way, we overcame many problems - the British withdrawal in 1971, the Oil Crisis in 1973, Sars, the Asian Financial Crisis and then the Global Financial Crisis. We grew our economy and created jobs, built homes, schools, hospitals and parks. We built a nation.

Year after year, we have kept the promises that Mr Lee Kuan Yew made on the 9th of August 1965: that we will be "one united people, regardless of race, language or religion"; that we will always have a bright future ahead of us.

Therefore on our 50th birthday, we have ample reason to celebrate.

Let us celebrate 50 years of peace and security, underwritten by the blood and sweat of generations of NSmen.

Let us celebrate how we turned vulnerabilities into strengths. How a struggling economy with no domestic market made the world our market and created jobs for our people. How, without any domestic hinterland, we made PSA and Changi Airport the best in the world. How, from being utterly dependent on Johor for water, we turned the whole island into one catchment area and developed NEWater. How, while we had no natural resources, we educated every Singaporean and created opportunities for their talents to thrive. We have proven that, together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

Most of all, let us celebrate how we journeyed from Third World to First, as one united people, leaving no one behind. Every citizen has benefited from Singapore's progress. Life has improved for all - for Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians; for blue-collar as well as white-collar workers; for HDB as well as condominium dwellers. We are a nation of home owners. Everyone has opportunities to improve himself. Everyone can look forward to a brighter future.

At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel how far we have come. We are grateful to those who made it happen. From this base camp, we can also look forward to new peaks ahead. The journey ahead is uncharted. But we must press on, because we aspire to do better for ourselves and our children.

We know that we will get there, because we will always be there for one another. We are stronger as one people. For example, we instinctively gather to lift a truck to save someone trapped underneath. Even if the music fails, we go on singing the National Anthem with gusto. We are proud of our past and confident of our future. Together we believe in Singapore; together we belong to Singapore; together, we are Singapore.

I am speaking to you from Victoria Concert Hall, a place that holds special significance in Singapore's history. In 1954, this was called the Victoria Memorial Hall. It was here that Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched the People's Action Party, and inaugurated the long struggle for a fair and just society. It was here in 1958 that "Majulah Singapura" was first performed. It was at the Padang nearby, after independence, that we held our National Day Parades, and sang Majulah Singapura together as a nation.

Fifty years on, on our Golden Jubilee, we will gather again at the Padang. We will sing Majulah Singapura proudly, and recite the National Pledge. We will rejoice in the success of our last five decades, and commit ourselves anew to work together as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build Singapore, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.

Happy 50th National Day!

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 09, 2015, with the headline 'Fifty years on: 'Stronger as one people''. Print Edition | Subscribe