Singapore is not yet done with nation building and its fourth generation of leaders must "fire up and mobilise" young Singaporeans who are eager to take up the challenge of forging a better future, said President Halimah Yacob.
In a speech billed as the younger leaders' vision of the direction in which they want to take the country, Madam Halimah said that as a new generation of Singaporeans comes of age, the 4G leaders will have to work with them to respond to the challenges of their times.
"They dream of a bright future, and pour their energies into exploring fresh horizons and building a better world. They want to see their parents age well," she said in her inaugural address as Parliament reconvened yesterday after a five-week half-time recess.
"They hope for a fairer and more equal society. As proud Singaporeans, they want to see this small island nation stand tall among the community of nations."
She said the 4G leaders "must grow with the people they represent, be open to diverse views and ideas, and have a clear purpose and unity of action".
They have to earn the right to lead and forge bonds with citizens, she said. "That right cannot be inherited. The trust between the people and their leaders is not automatically passed on from one generation to the next."
Pointing to the challenges ahead, she continued: "Their duty is clear, but the path will not be easy. There will be times of hardship, when they must demonstrate leadership and resolve. There will be moments of truth, when they have to stand firm on principles and ideals while seeking practical resolutions.
FORGING A BETTER FUTURE
A new generation of Singaporeans is coming of age...They dream of a bright future, and pour their energies into exploring fresh horizons and building a better world. They want to see their parents age well. They hope for a fairer and more equal society. As proud Singaporeans, they want to see this small island nation stand tall among the community of nations... The fourth generation leadership must fire up and mobilise the spirit and energy of young Singaporeans. They must grow with the people they represent, embrace a diversity of views and ideas, and yet forge a clarity of purpose and unity of action.
PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB, in her inaugural address yesterday.
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• Madam Halimah's speech
"They will need to listen to the views and feelings of the people, and by their words and deeds, show that they have heard; yet never fear to lead and mobilise public opinion to support difficult policies in the long-term interest of Singapore."
The 30-minute speech, which in broad strokes sets out the Government's priorities for the second half of the term, was largely drafted by the younger Cabinet members - and mediocrity was not on the cards.
"We may be tempted not to go for bold changes, but instead be content to tweak things at the margins," said Madam Halimah, noting that the new leaders may feel there is more to lose now, as Singapore is at a more advanced stage of development.
"That would be the wrong approach," she said.
Looking ahead, there are five priorities, she said. They are: Securing a place in the world for Singapore, building a world-class city, developing a vibrant economy, forging a caring and inclusive society, and nurturing a distinct Singapore identity.
The President, flanked by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, representing the different branches of government, was addressing a packed chamber in Parliament House.
There were signs of political transition all round. Following a Cabinet reshuffle that took effect this month, the front bench was filled with key 4G ministers such as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng, and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, while retired 3G ministers Lim Hng Kiang, Lim Swee Say and Yaacob Ibrahim moved to the second row.
On the other side of the aisle, new Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh took the front-row seat of his predecessor Low Thia Khiang, the de facto leader of the opposition for nearly two decades who stepped down last month.
In the public gallery sat the family members of MPs.
Taking stock of the Government's work over the previous 32 months, Madam Halimah described it as an eventful time.
She noted that Singapore has managed to grow its economy and real wages for all income groups.
But she added that the Republic remains vulnerable to external developments, be it the ties between China and the United States, or the threat of terrorism.
The texture of society is also changing, and Singapore should be wary of divisive forces such as inequality and religious polarisation.
In an uncertain world, leadership will decide Singapore's success, said the President.
Ending her address on a spirited note, she said she hoped Singaporeans born post-independence will understand that "becoming Singaporean - 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion' - continues to be an undertaking of conviction and choice".
She urged them to dedicate themselves to writing the next chapter of Singapore's story. "Together, the new generation will keep Singapore an exceptional nation."