NDP 2020: Masked, but not muted - parade on Padang kicks off celebrations

President Halimah Yacob, PM Lee Hsien Loong (wearing a white cap) and other MPs applauding the essential workers at the National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
President Halimah Yacob speaking to Dr Sewa DW from Singhealth DukeNUS Academic Medical Centre at the National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
President Halimah Yacob inspecting the Guard of Honour after the 21-gun presidential salute at the National Day Parade at the Padang, on Aug 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
The 21-gun presidential salute during the National Day Parade, at the Padang, on Aug 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
PM Lee takes a selfie with front-line workers at the National Day Parade, on Aug 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Guests at the National Day Parade at the Padang, on Aug 9, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The marching contingent from the Republic of Singapore Navy at the National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Marching contingents stand in formation as the 21-gun presidential salute goes off during the National Day Parade. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The country struck a defiant note in the face of the coronavirus as it turned 55 on Sunday (Aug 9).

The Padang, long the site of memorable National Day Parade (NDP) celebrations, played a distinctly different role this year than it did in the past.

As Third Sergeant Lim Yu Jie raised the flag on the historic field at 10.30am, it kickstarted celebrations across the island, which will continue into the night.

The ceremonial parade - often seen as the heart of NDP celebrations - took place in the morning this year, unlike in the past when it was incorporated into the evening song-and-dance segments.

Scaled-down due to Covid-19 - with just 150 people watching and four marching contingents instead of 38 - it was just one of many celebratory events that the organising committee had prepared.

But a greater emphasis on the heartland and a more socially-distanced parade did not mean a lack of gravitas, with big guns brought in to give an extra oomph and strike the "simple but dignified" chord that the NDP organising committee had hoped for.

While retaining the usual state flag fly-past in conjunction with the singing of the National Anthem, as well as the guard-of-honour inspection by President Halimah Yacob, the parade also added new features to show the country's resilience in the face of the unprecedented pandemic.

For one, it was the first time in the country's history that the 21-gun presidential salute was fired on the Padang for NDP.

Because of the greatly reduced marching contingents - just 200 members from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force this year - those marching occupied less than a third of the field, leaving a wide space free.

This allowed the four howitzer guns - which eject significant debris when fired - to be rolled onto the field, bolstering proceedings with their sound and fury.

More important, the contingents paid a special tribute to front-line and essential workers who have kept Singapore afloat amid the pandemic, putting the parade in its necessary context.

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At 10.45am, at the direction of parade commander Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Ong, parade participants performed a special salute, holding out their weapons in silent acknowledgement of what these workers have risked.

For some in the parade, like Military Expert 2 Muhammad Khairunnizam Amran, whose wife is a nurse at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, it was a personal moment.

For others, like LTC Ong, it made the masked rehearsals worth it. The 38-year-old said that it was his favourite parade command, as it gave him a chance to "show respect to the unsung heroes".

For the rest of the participants - and the nation - it was a parade to remember, a different iteration of what they have got used to seeing every year.

Madam Halimah's choice to wear a brooch and scarf designed by two artists with visual impairments was also a nice touch, consistent with the causes she has championed and symbolic of a more inclusive Singapore.

As the participants stood proud, sweating in the sun, the rest of Singapore watched on on their television screens, and had cause to remember it as a time when the nation stood masked, but not muted.

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