SINGAPORE - For the first time in more than a decade, the organising committee for next year's River Hongbao (RHB), Singapore's Chinese New Year staple gala, is not being helmed by Members of Parliament.
Instead, MPs have taken on a back seat role as advisers, "with the objective of having the Chinese community lead and run the event", which will take place from Jan 23 to Feb 1, said the RHB organising committee on Tuesday (Dec 17).
Whether the change will be made permanent is yet uncertain, organisers added, saying the advisory team will continue to share their opinions with the organising committee.
The team of four MPs includes Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling.
To be held at The Float @ Marina Bay, the annual festival will bring back crowd favourites like firework displays lasting between three and six minutes on all 10 nights, as well as performances by overseas and local dance and wushu troupes.
Local delicacies unique to six dialect groups here will also be sold in a 40-stall food street, revealed the organising committee at a media briefing on Tuesday.
RHB 2020 is organised by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and People's Association.
Since its inception in 1987, the event has evolved to become a major highlight of the Singapore calendar, attracting one million participants every year.
About 30 to 35 per cent of participants are made up of tourists keen to experience Singapore's unique Chinese New Year flavour, with most of them coming from China, Malaysia and Britain, said the STB.
Organisers said that unlike other Chinese New Year events in overseas cities that petered out, the longevity of RHB is testament to its importance in preserving and spreading Chinese culture here.
Ms Lee Huay Leng, head of SPH's Chinese Media Group and a member of the organising committee, said: "We tend to take it for granted, but could you imagine if RHB was not organised? That RHB has been able to survive for more than 30 years is no small feat."
She also floated the possibility of submitting a bid to add RHB to Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Mr Perng Peck Seng, SFCCA secretary-general and programme chairman of the organising committee, said it is a viable prospect but added that no concrete step has been taken yet on this front.
Responding later to queries from The Straits Times, RHB organisers said: "The organising committee will review and share more information should we decide to take the next step."
In line with its efforts to make it a more Singaporean affair, the organising team has secured nods from several local business patrons, with POSB and food and beverage giant Fraser and Neave (F&N) being major sponsors for RHB 2020.
The features of next year's gala reflects this shift, with the new attractions planned being more Singapore-oriented and exciting for the young.
For instance, there will be a virtual augmented reality game by POSB and Instagrammable mocktails specially curated for RHB by F&N.
The "Shou" (longevity) lantern will also show a young person exercising instead of the usual smiling old god figure, imbuing it with greater modern relevance.
A spokesman for the STB, which provides feedback on how best to attract new audiences such as young people and tourists, said a key draw is the authenticity of the event, when there are particular Singaporean aspects.
"We are, for instance, very happy that this year, a food street with more than 40 stalls will be selling more Singapore-inspired delicacies," added the spokesman.
As with previous years, attractive prizes are set to be won, spanning from red packets containing $20 cash to a pair of Singapore Airlines business class tickets between Singapore and Seattle.
Clarification note: An earlier version of the story, based on information provided by the organising committee, said that MPs will not be helming the organising of River Hongbao 2020 for the first time in 34 years. The organising committee has since clarified that it is the first time in more than a decade.