SINGAPORE - After a year in which Singaporeans celebrated how far the nation had come since independence 50 years ago, President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Friday (Jan 15) sketched a sobering picture of the outlook for the country as it begins a new chapter.
Speaking at the opening of the 13th Parliament and after an eventful fortnight that saw turmoil in the region's stock markets and a terrorist attack in Jakarta, he said that Singaporeans cannot expect an easy journey ahead.
The fundamental realities of Singapore - a small country with no natural resources bar its people, that thrives because it safeguards its interests in a world where size and power still matter - will not change.
Thursday's bomb blasts in Indonesia are also a reminder of how close terrorism can strike.
"We are fully on guard against this threat, but we cannot rule out the possibility of an attack in Singapore," he added.
Dr Tan noted that the need to upgrade the economy means people and businesses have to adapt. A fast ageing and increasingly diverse society also poses new challenges.
"To remain special, we must first resolve to move ahead together," he said, as he outlined the Government's programmes for the next five years and beyond.
These will focus on five key aims: keeping Singapore safe and secure, renewing the economy, fostering a more caring society, transforming the urban landscape and engaging Singaporeans in nation-building.
He also pointed out that good policies, which bring people together and benefit all segments of society - at a time when some societies suffer deep divisions and political gridlock - require good politics.
Singapore's political system, he said, must give opportunities for alternative views to be considered, and assure minority communities that they can fully take part in the mainstream of national life.
And while modifications over the years, from the Non-Constituency MP scheme to GRCs and the office of the elected President, have delivered stability and progress for Singapore, they need to be refreshed as circumstances change, he said.
"The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term," he added.
This evening's Parliament sitting is the first since the Sept 11 General Election that saw the People's Action Party Government returned to power with almost 70 per cent of the vote and securing 83 out of 89 elected seats in the House.
Dr Tan noted that policies over the government's last term had improved the well-being of all citizens, brought them closer together and will continue to do so, and voters affirmed this by giving it a stronger mandate.
"The work of securing this nation and improving our lives is never-ending. We must continually adjust our programmes and politics to ensure that Singapore keeps on an upward path," he said.
In the afternoon, Madam Halimah Yacob was re-elected as Speaker of Parliament, and all 89 elected MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs took their oaths of allegiance.
Leader of the House Grace Fu paid tribute to Madam Halimah's fairness and firmness in the post over the past three years, and was joined by backbench MPs Zainal Sapari, Tin Pei Ling and Vikram Nair, who spoke in Malay, Mandarin and Tamil respectively.
Ms Fu added that upcoming House sittings will see energetic debates on complex decisions that affect all Singaporeans amid an uncertain global environment.
"Your leadership and guidance will ensure fair debate in this House, and your even-handedness will honour and maintain the trust that Singaporeans have in this Government," she said.
Madam Halimah welcomed the 21 new MPs, and looked forward to their bringing new ideas to debates in the House and contributing to more robust policymaking.
To all MPs, she said: "Regardless of the party that we represent, or the interests that we wish to champion, we are first and foremost the representatives of the people, and must act in their best interest."
Dr Tan said the Government will work closely with the people for the long-term interest of Singapore and Singaporeans, and younger ministers will also build their experience governing Singapore, and their rapport with citizens.
Starting on Monday, ministries will announce details of their coming programmes over five days.
Parliament will sit again on Jan 25 to debate the Government's broad direction and policies.