National Day Rally 2016: 7 things you need to know from PM Lee's speech

PM Lee Hsien Loong delivers the National Day Rally 2016 speech at ITE College Central on August 21. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers the National Day Rally 2016 speech at Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central on Aug 21, 2016. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on politics, race, diplomatic tensions and other policy matters in his National Day Rally address on Sunday (Aug 21).

Following a short scare, when Mr Lee appeared to be taken ill in the middle of the speech, he returned to the stage to elaborate on leadership succession and Singapore's long-term future.

Here are seven major points from his address to the nation:

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Ensuring a minority president is elected from time to time, enhanced ElderShield and a second Minister for Finance to help Mr Heng Swee Keat. These were some points raised during the National Day Rally on Aug 22

1. Changes for elected presidency

Mr Lee did not reveal the changes afoot for the elected presidency, but said the Government accepts in principle the main recommendations submitted by a constitutional commission that reviewed the elected president scheme.

There are changes to strengthen the Council of Presidential Advisers which will be "incremental and straightforward", he said.

The qualifying criteria for presidential candidates are likely to be tightened. The requirement that candidates have run companies with $100m paid-up capital or more is "out of date".

The Government will ensure that, from time to time, minorities will be elected as President.

2. The return of Heng Swee Keat

Minister Heng Swee Keat will be resuming duties at the Finance Ministry. The 54-year-old suffered a stroke and collapsed at a Cabinet meeting in May, but was discharged from hospital on June 25.

He needs to avoid crowds to minimise the risk of infection, and will not be able to do community and grassroots work for a few more months.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong will be appointed second Finance Minister and help with operational responsibilities at the ministry, while Mr Heng focuses on next year's Budget and the Committee on the Future Economy.

3. Leadership succession

A new Prime Minister must be ready to take over after the next general election, said Mr Lee.

"What happened makes it more important that I talk about it now," he said.

Mr Lee said that he will press on with succession, but it has not been easy to find suitable and willing candidates.

4. ElderShield review

A review of the ElderShield insurance scheme is in order, and the Ministry of Health will be conducting it, Mr Lee said in his Mandarin speech.

The Prime Minister highlighted two areas to improve: that the scheme does not cover everyone, and its payouts are limited to six years.

Mr Lee said the disability insurance for elders was the "one remaining piece to strengthen" Singapore's social safety net.

5. Terrorism

Mr Lee warned that terrorism is an imminent and serious threat, with groups active in South-east Asia. The government has been acting quietly to deal with terrorist plots, he said.

The SG-Secure movement will be launched in September to prepare Singaporeans in the case of a domestic terrorist attack, he said.

Due to concerns about the spread of extremist ideology, the Government will strengthen a scheme that endorses religious teachers or asatizah.

6. South China Sea disputes

Mr Lee re-asserted Singapore's stand in the territorial dispute involving China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan.

While Singapore has no claims in the South China Sea, three things matter: making sure international law is upheld, that freedom of navigation is not affected and Asean remains united and effective on the international stage.

Singapore will not take sides, but must stand up for its own position, he said.

7. Foreign policy

As a small nation, Singapore needs to maintain good relations with its neighbours, as well as major powers China and the United States.

Mr Lee has just returned from a state dinner at the White House in Washington, and Singapore is also good friends with China, which he is visiting next month.

Nearer to Singapore shores, ties with Malaysia and Indonesia are sensitive and complex, but good on the whole.

The Points of Agreement on railway land was recently settled with Malaysia, as was the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the high-speed rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Lee meets Indonesian President Joko Widodo regularly, and they have talked about improving economic cooperation and on working together to tackle the haze problem.

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