PM Lee joins thousands of revellers at Ang Mo Kio-Bishan Park to ring in 2015

Ang Mo Kio GRC residents gather at the grand lawn at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park in an attempt to break the world record for most number of people wearing balloon hats with 12,000 balloon hats on Dec 31, 2014, as part of the New Year's Eve celebrations. -
Ang Mo Kio GRC residents gather at the grand lawn at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park in an attempt to break the world record for most number of people wearing balloon hats with 12,000 balloon hats on Dec 31, 2014, as part of the New Year's Eve celebrations. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Fireworks lit up the heartland sky as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ushered Singapore's jubilee year in with over 12,000 residents from his Ang Mo Kio GRC and neighbouring Sengkang West SMC.

He spent the last hours of 2014 at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, one of three satellite locations that was - for the first time ever - linked up to countdown party at Marina Bay.

The five-minute firework display capped off the boisterous countdown party, which started at 8pm and featured a mini-amusement park, booths for activities like belly dancing and gardening, and live performances by the community.

When Mr Lee arrived at the park earlier in the night the crowd surged forward to meet him, waving at him with their phones in the air and jostling among themselves to get a shot of the man.

He then wrote his wishes for SG50 -"happiness, prosperity, progress" - on a clay tablet. After it was hung up on stage, people inched forward to snap photos of it.

When asked by host Bryan Wong about his wishes for SG50 the new year, Mr Lee said: "We've come a long way in the last 50 years.We have a lot of room to grow still."

But even as the nation celebrates, he said, "we also remember sad things that have happened in the year, particularly the recent Air Asia accident and the victims and their families".

He added: "But we look forward, and we aim to make Singapore better. And let's work together. Let's overcome the challenges, and make sure, in 50 years time, we have a really special SG100."

He then went on a walkabout, visiting booths and greeting residents.

Despite the wet grass and soggy ground, a swarm of residents trailed him from booth to booth, some excitedly calling his name.

He visited the Portraits of the People booth, where he traced a selfie of himself while the crowd watched on.

He also hopped on a cycling simulator at a booth explaining the push to make Ang Mo Kio a walking and cycling town, a plan he first announced last November (2014) as part of the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.

After a series of performances, Mr Lee addressed the crowd and urged Singaporeans to celebrate the country's achievements and to work together in the years to come - echoing his New Year message to the nation earlier on Wednesday - before joining revellers around the island in a rendition of Home with a balloon hat perched on his head.

He had in the message taken stock of 2014. It was an eventful year, he said, as he highlighted sobering issues like the spate of air tragedies, most recently the ill-fated Indonesia Air Asia flight QZ8501 bound for Singapore, conflict in Ukraine, and the looming terror threat posed by militant group ISIS.

In Singapore, though incomes have risen, productivity growth has been weak, he said.

Even so, he was upbeat about Singapore's future, noting the strides the country has made in strengthening social safety nets, giving people more pathways to success beyond the road well-trodden, and improving infrastructure.

"We may have much work to do to overcome our challenges, but we have the ability, drive and determination to do so…" he said.

"It is not good enough for Singapore to be an ordinary country. Our pioneers came to our shores with great hopes for a better life. Each succeeding generation can do better. We must have faith that better days lie ahead."

In a Facebook post earlier on Wednesday, Mr Lee said that he had visited Marina Bay on Tuesday night - a day before the actual countdown.

Posting a photo he had taken of the Fullerton Hotel bathed in a light display depicting Samsui women, he wrote: "2015 is SG50, a time to reflect on how far we've come and give thanks for what we've achieved."

In another Facebook post linking to his New Year message on Wednesday evening, Mr Lee wrote: "Thinking of those who lost loved ones on AirAsia QZ8501 as we mark the new year."

For most of Wednesday night, Ang Mo Kio-Bishan park was awash in a sea of balloon hats as residents worked to break an existing Guinness world record for the most number of people wearing balloon hats. Grassroots leaders and residents have spent the past three days creating some 12,000 hats for the party.

They smashed a 2007 record - 4017 people - with close to 6,000 people.

asyiqin@sph.com.sg