From babies to casinos: 11 memorable National Day Rally speeches

 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering the National Day Rally speech at the Institute of Technical Education on Aug 23, 2015.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering the National Day Rally speech at the Institute of Technical Education on Aug 23, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver the National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21) at the Institute of Technical Education.

The annual address takes stock of the country's progress the year before, and maps out its direction for the future. Often, major policies are announced at the rally.

Singapore's progress can thus be traced through the themes of the speeches, which have evolved from matters of survival as a nation, expanding the economy to improving social equity in recent years.

The rally originated as a private meeting. Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew delivered the first National Day Rally speech on Aug 8, 1966, to a select group of community leaders. The speech was released to the media only two weeks later.

For the next four years, it remained a closed-door affair.

In 1971, Mr Lee decided at the last minute to have it televised live to the nation. Explaining his decision, he said then: "We cannot go on doing the things we are doing unless not only you but a lot of other people outside know the raison d'etre, the background, the reasons, the problems..."

Since then, the rally has become a fixture on the political calendar, held always on the first or second Sunday after National Day on Aug 9.

The speeches are usually delivered in Malay, Mandarin and English, and up till 1980, the late Mr Lee also spoke in Hokkien.

When Mr Goh Chok Tong took over as Prime Minister, he said he had big shoes to fill, but would walk his own way in his maiden speech in 1991.

PM Lee, who gave his first National Day Rally speech in 2004, now uses graphics, photos and videos in a multimedia presentation that is not only broadcast live, but also streamed online, tweeted, and posted on Facebook.

We look at 11 significant speeches from the past:

1. AUG 8, 1966 AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE

Then PM Lee Kuan Yew wasted no time in addressing Singapore's sudden expulsion from Malaysia the year before, saying that they had no regrets in deciding "to carry on with our multi-racial experiment".

Besides reporting that the economy had improved against expectations, he called on Singaporeans to "face reality including the 9th of August", and elaborated on his vision of an integrated society.

QUOTE:

"Every year, on this 9th August for many years ahead - how many, I do not know - we will dedicate ourselves anew to consolidate ourselves to survive; and, most important of all, to find an enduring future for what we have built and what our forebears will build up."

2. AUG 15, 1971 AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE


Lee Kuan Yew delivering his National Day Rally speech at National Theatre on Aug 15, 1971.  PHOTO: ST FILE

This speech by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, broadcast live for the first time, was delivered off the cuff.

He explained that the nation at large should also know the "raison d'etre, the background, the reasons, the problems" concerning the country and its issues.

Giving incisive analysis of political developments around the world, he gave warnings about Singapore's vulnerability as a small country, but was cautiously optimistic about the country's future.

QUOTE:

"I am not here tonight to preach blood, sweat and tears or talk about the apocalypse. You have done well - six superb years, a magnificent performance against all the odds, so much so that everybody says, 'But, of course, everybody knows that Singapore is a very well-endowed place, geographically favoured by the gods, good infrastructure, communications, sea, air, land, good banking system, skilled workers. Oh, just natural course of events.' It wasn't, you know. We made it so."

3. AUG 14, 1983 AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE

Proving that he will not steer away from any topic, no matter how controversial, Mr Lee Kuan Yew trotted out facts and figures to show that the more highly educated a woman was, the less likely she was to reproduce.

This resulted in a backlash that contributed to an erosion of electoral support for the People's Action Party over the next few years.

QUOTE:

"What we discovered in the 1980 census, which I think has to be brought out, is that we are really discarding our able parents in the next generation and doubling the less able."

4. AUG 14, 1988 AT KALLANG THEATRE

Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered one of his most-quoted lines: "And even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave, and I feel that something is going wrong, I'll get up."

Nearing the end of a 25-year term as Prime Minister, he spoke at length about what made the country tick. He also defended the Government's policies ranging from the elected presidency, tough media laws to the group representation constituency scheme, which was passed into law just two months earlier.

QUOTE:

"I belong to that exclusive club of founder members of new countries - first prime ministers or presidents of a new independent country. And even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave, and I feel that something is going wrong, I'll get up. Those who believe that when I have left the government as prime minister, that I've gone into permanent retirement, really should have their heads examined."

5. AUG 11, 1991 AT KALLANG THEATRE


Goh Chok Tong delivering his first National Day Rally speech at Kallang Theatre on Aug 11, 1991.  PHOTO: ST FILE

It was Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's first National Day Rally.

He made a big announcement in his maiden speech - that he would call for election soon to seek a clear mandate from the people.

The newly-minted Prime Minister spoke with a self-deprecating humour that heralded a new, gentler style of governance and a more intimate style of oration. He also announced new programmes like the $5 billion Medifund, to help the needy pay for healthcare.

QUOTE:

"I said I was not going to wear Mr Lee Kuan Yew's shoes, but I found myself stepping into his shoes tonight. I am not going to follow his act. I am going to walk my own way."

6. AUG 20, 2000 AT KALLANG THEATRE

The Children Development Co-Savings Scheme, better known as Baby Bonus, was introduced at this rally. The total fertility rate had fallen to 1.48 then.

Mr Goh also touched on education, attracting global talent, healthcare for the elderly, and the widening income gap among other topics.

QUOTE:

"These incentives will take effect for babies born from 1 April next year. It should really be nine months from tonight. But we will start from the new financial year, to be generous to the early babies."

7. AUG 18, 2002 AT NUS UNIVERSITY CULTURAL CENTRE


Goh Chok Tong delivering his National Day Rally speech at NUS University Cultural Centre on Aug 18, 2002.  PHOTO: ST FILE

A key thrust of Mr Goh's speech was the remaking of the Singapore economy in order for the country to stay ahead of competition.

But it was his remark on fair-weather Singaporeans - whom he labelled "quitters" - that generated discussion.

He cited a media poll which asked Singaporeans if they were prepared to lay down their lives for Singapore if it came to a crunch.

Mr Goh said he was disturbed by the results. "One respondent said that he would 'run at the drop of a hat'. Another said that he would not stay, because 'with the global economy, we needn't be in Singapore to earn money'. A third felt 'no sense of belonging here'," he said.

QUOTE:

"Fair-weather Singaporeans will run away whenever the country runs into stormy weather. I call them 'quitters'. Fortunately, 'quitters' are in the minority. The majority of Singaporeans are 'stayers'. 'Stayers' are committed to Singapore. Rain or shine, they will be with Singapore. As we say in Hokkien, 'pah see buay zao'."

8. AUG 22, 2004 AT NUS UNIVERSITY CULTURAL CENTRE


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his first National Day Rally speech at NUS University Cultural Centre on Aug 22, 2004.  PHOTO: ST FILE

It was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's first National Day Rally and observers expected a cautious speech.

But he surprised many by slaughtering a few sacred cows.

He promoted a shift in education policy to "teach less, learn more", cut the work week for civil servants to five days, and announced that the Speakers' Corner will allow performances and exhibitions, and not just speeches.

He also proposed the controversial idea of casinos, or integrated resorts.

QUOTE:

"Let me give a controversial example. It's quite a controversial one. Some people told me, 'Don't raise it, it's your first rally speech, very dangerous', but I'm going to do it anyway. It's to do with the casino. We've said, 'No' to the casino for a very long time. I've said 'No' to the casino for a very long time... But the subject didn't die and we have to reconsider because the argument comes up, the situation changes."

9. AUG 26, 2012 AT NUS UNIVERSITY CULTURAL CENTRE


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his National Day Rally speech at NUS University Cultural Centre on Aug 26, 2012.  PHOTO: ST FILE

PM Lee announced that the Government will hold a national conversation led by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The rally took on a new format with three ministers speaking before Mr Lee did. They were Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Lawrence Wong and Madam Halimah Yacob. It was the first rally to have real-time sign language translation.

QUOTE:

"So what should the next chapter of the Singapore story be about? I think if I summarise it very, very briefly, it should be about three words - Hope, Heart, Home."

10. AUG 18, 2013 AT ITE COLLEGE CENTRAL CAMPUS

In what many regarded as a landmark speech, PM Lee spoke about the "new way forward" for Singapore which was at a turning point, with a more diverse and vocal populace and contested political landscape, and a maturing economy that must be less reliant on cheap labour.

He announced a swathe of changes to expand social safety nets and make society more equitable.

These included the introduction of the new, universal medical insurance MediShield Life, extending more HDB grants to the middle-income, and replacing the PSLE T-score with broader bands of grades.

The rally was also held at ITE College Central campus for the first time, after nine years at the NUS University Cultural Centre.

QUOTE:

"I brought the Rally to ITE for a serious purpose - to underscore my longstanding commitment to investing in every person, every Singaporean, to his full potential. And also to signal a change, to emphasise that this is not the usual NDR. Singapore is at a turning point."

11. Aug 23, 2015 AT ITE COLLEGE CENTRAL CAMPUS

In Singapore's 50th year of  independence, Mr Lee spoke not just about the year ahead, but also about how Singapore can continue to be special for the next five decades.

Singapore has to be a "shining red dot" to continue to do well, he said. Family-centric schemes such as enhancements to the baby bonus, paternity leave and schemes to help Singaporeans own flats were also announced.

However, the most anticipated announcement was that a general election was imminent. The General Election, held in September, was won handily by the People’s Action Party with 69.9 per cent of the vote. 

QUOTE:

"Singapore has to stay special because if we are just a dull little spot on the map, we are going to count for nothing. We have to be a shining red dot. If we are soft, we will be eaten up. We have to be rugged and have that steel in us. If we are divided, whether along racial lines or class lines, we cannot survive. We have to stand as one united people and progress together."