SINGAPORE - 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 doing so, said President Halimah Yacob.
Delivering her inaugural opening address of Parliament as President, she said that as a new generation of Singaporeans come of age with their own dreams, hopes and fears, 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.
"They hope for a fairer and more equal society. As proud Singaporeans, they want to see this small island nation stand tall amongst the community of nations."
She called on the 4G leaders to marshall the spirit and energy of these young Singaporeans. To do so, they must grow with the people they represent, be open to diverse views and ideas and have a clear purpose and unity of action, said the President.
She added that trust between Singaporeans and their leaders does not pass automatically from one generation to the next.
"That right cannot be inherited. In each generation, the people and leaders must work with one another, go through trials and tribulations together, and forge their own bonds afresh."
She set out just how they should do it: "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.
"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."
In a speech largely drafted by the younger members of the Cabinet, she also called on them to go for bold changes in responding to the challenges of their times.
"We may be tempted not to go for bold changes, but instead be content to tweak things at the margins," she said, noting that the new leaders may feel that there is more to lose now, given that Singapore is at a more advanced stage of development.
"That would be the wrong approach."
Warning against settling for mediocrity, Madam Halimah said the country has a lot going for it as a vibrant node in Asia and a harmonious multi-cultural society.
"We need to keep alive the spirit of our pioneers and be constantly driven to do better, with each generation surpassing the previous," she added.
The President was addressing a packed chamber in Parliament House, where signs of transition were evident.
Following a Cabinet reshuffle that took effect this month, younger ministers now dominate the first row where front-benchers sit.
4G ministers such as Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Minister in Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee shifted up front, 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, veteran Low Thia Khiang, who was the de facto leader of the opposition for nearly two decades before stepping down last month.
MPs returning yesterday from the customary mid-term break dressed up for the occasion, with men largely in formal suits and women in outfits of various shades.
Taking stock of the Government's work over the previous 32 months as she opened the second session of the 13th Parliament, Madam Halimah described it as an "eventful" time.
She noted that Singapore had managed to grow its economy and real wages for all income groups, amid an uncertain environment that saw the United States elect a new president and Britain voting to leave the European Union in Brexit, among other things.
At home, efforts are also underway to renew the economy, upgrade infrastructure such as the MRT lines, and enhance support for the vulnerable, she said.
But she added that Singapore operates in a changing environment, and as a small, open country, is vulnerable to external developments, whether it be strategic changes caused by China's rise and the US' reaction to it, or the threat of terrorism sparked by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria losing its battle in the Middle East.
Amid these global developments, the texture of society in Singapore is changing as the population ages, and this will place heavier demands on the country's healthcare and security systems, she said.
Pointing to how inequality and social stratification has broken the social compact in many countries, she said: "We must tackle inequality, particularly the increasingly dissimilar starting points of children from different family backgrounds, before the problem becomes entrenched in our society."
She also highlighted divisive forces such as religious polarisation, xenophobia and extreme nationalism. Meanwhile, she added, falsehoods and misinformation are spreading online, sowing distrust within societies.
"We must not allow our nation to succumb to these forces."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said he would leave the drafting of Madam Halimah's speech largely to the 4G leaders, and they took the chance to give Singaporeans a hint of where their priorities and concerns lie.
In the 30-minute speech, the President outlined five priorities, elaborating on each in turn: 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.
In an uncertain world, leadership will continue to make a critical difference to Singapore's success, said Madam Halimah.
She acknowledged that the path will not be easy, but urged the 4G leaders to demonstrate leadership and resolve when things get bumpy.
Ending her speech on a spirited note, she also had a message for Singaporeans born after the country's independence, saying that she hoped they will understand that "becoming Singaporean - 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion' - continues to be an undertaking of conviction and choice".
She said after 52 years, nation building was not done, and urged them to dedicate themselves to writing the next chapter of Singapore's story.
"Together, the new generation will keep Singapore an exceptional nation," she said.