Monday, August 20, 2007

Post No. 118: Brief Afterthoughts About National Day Rally 2007

What follow below would be just some brief afterthoughts of mine about PM Lee’s National Day Rally speeches broadcasted last night.

On the whole, I must say that the speeches did not contain much that was unexpected or unanticipated. By this, I refer to the fact that, in his speeches, PM Lee touched upon a range of issues, such as CPF reforms, education, the challenges that Singapore will face as its society ages, housing and the widening income gap, most of which have already, in one way or another, been expected and/or predicted by local observers before the actual day of the speeches.

Thus, it would appears to me that this is akin to how the general plotlines of popular movies are made known to the public even before the movies are screened in the cinemas due to the large amount of pre-screening discussion about them; people are going to watch the movies to know about the details.

Hence, I would think that this year’s National Day Rally speeches did not really reveal anything surprising, except perhaps for the proposed setting up of a fourth publicly funded local university and the development of Punggol 21 Plus, in contrast to how the proposed construction of the Integrated Resorts was announced during National Day Rally 2004 (if my memory does not serve me wrong).

Malay-Muslim community = community beset with problems?

Moving on, perhaps I am reading too much into it but comparing the speech made in Malay with those made in Mandarin and English, it seems to me that the emphasis and issues discussed in the Malay speech is perhaps in stark contrast with those in the other 2 speeches and this perhaps suggest something most interesting.

If you all looked through the speech made in Malay, it would not escape the notice of you all that it was a speech made to address issues specific only to the local Malay-Muslim community. This is in contrast to how both the Mandarin & English speeches addressed issues, such as the income gap, education & philanthropy, which are aimed at the general Singaporean population (though, of course, in the Mandarin speech, the issue of popularising Mandarin, an issue of specific concern to members of the local Chinese community, was also raised).

Well, on one hand, it may be argued that since the Malay speech was made in Malay, it is inevitable that it will be targeted at the local Malay-Muslim community and that it is a sign of respect & inclusiveness that the PM chose to allocate time to address issues specific to the local Malay-Muslim community during the National Day Rally.

However, on the other hand, it may also be argued that this decision to have a Malay speech to address issues specific to the local Malay-Muslim community hints at the division of Singaporeans into different linguistic & ethnic communities (divide & rule?). I mean, shouldn’t the National Day Rally address the Singaporean “nation” as a whole and not as the Malay-speaking community, the Mandarin-speaking community and the English-speaking community separately (aside: we don’t see the U.S. President making his State of the Union speech in Spanish and then English, do we?)?

Also, it seems to me that while PM Lee did highlight the successes that the local Malay-Muslim community has achieved, he also focused much attention on the problems that he perceived as being specific to the local Malay-Muslim community, for example: teenage pregnancies and (religious) extremism. If I have not remembered wrongly, the PM also mentioned something about the local Malay-Muslim community has successfully combated the problem of drug abuse.

Well, if I was a foreign observer looking through the transcripts of the 3 different speeches, I suppose it would be quite easy for me to mistakenly assume that the local Malay-Muslim community is one beset with social problems that, somehow, the rest of the Singaporean population is exempted from.

As we all hopefully are aware, while it may be true that problems such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and (religious) extremism perhaps affects the local Malay-Muslims to a greater extent, these problems also afflict the rest of Singaporeans too.

Why then is the PM discussing these problems as though they are specific only to the local Malay-Muslim community?

What is not said is sometimes more important than what is said

Next, while it is indeed important to analyse the National Day Rally speeches through looking at what was said in them, it is my opinion that it is perhaps no less important that we examine what was not said in the speeches.

On that note, I find it interesting that, in contrast with the National Day Rally of last year, PM Lee did not mention anything about the issue of the new media in Singapore (ok, perhaps he thought that he shouldn’t sound like a broken record by repeatedly talking about this issue). Does this mean that the issue of the new media is off the radar of the Singapore Government? Hmm… I do not know about you all but I doubt so.

Also, it should be noted that despite the recent discussion over whether Section 377A of the local Penal Code should be retained or not, there was not the slightest mention of this issue in this year’s National Day Rally speeches.

Hmm… Is this due to PM Lee deciding that this issue is not of enough significance to be raised during the National Day Rally? Or is this decision deliberately made to avoid raising a potentially divisive and controversial topic during this year’s National Day Rally? Perhaps it is a combination of both.

And, of course, as Dr. Huang and Mr. Andrew Loh of The Online Citizen (TOC) have pointed out, even as PM Lee was talking about the launch of new housing upgrading schemes, he seemed to have missed out on mentioning the opposition-held constituencies of Hougang and Potong Pasir (note: he did mention the former but, as TOC noted, it is not completely certain whether he was referring to the PAP-held part of Hougang or the part which is under the opposition). More on this later.

A Home for All?

As stated by the PM, the central theme of this year’s National Day Rally is “City of Possibilities, A Home for All”. Most interesting – “A Home for All”. Would this also be a home for homosexuals, those who oppose the PAP Government and those whom did not vote for the PAP during elections?

With regards to the last part of the question above, I suppose it is common knowledge to you all that it is a stated policy of the PAP Government (since at least 1997) to prioritise housing upgrading schemes for PAP-held constituencies ahead of constituencies held by the opposition.

This policy of preferential upgrading for PAP-held constituencies has drawn much discussion and criticism. It has also led to wisecracks about how Singapore also practices “One country, two systems” and how if Singaporeans want to revisit the Singapore of the 1980s and the 1990s, they can do so by visiting Potong Pasir and Hougang respectively (both of these wisecracks I got from George Nonis’s “From Kuan Yew to Chok Tong and beyond”).

Also, observers have pointed that PM Lee’s invitation to the opposition MPs and Nominated MPs (NMPs) to attend the National Day Rally this year is a symbolic move to be more inclusive. Yet, it would seems to me that, at least for the opposition MPs, being the elected representatives of their respective constituencies, these MPs should have every right to attend the National Day Rally. Thus, while PM Lee’s move to invite opposition MPs and NMPs is a positive one, it should not be seen as though he is bestowing some sort of great privilege on them.

In addition, I suppose if PM Lee truly wants to build an inclusive society in Singapore and make it “A Home for All”, he should go beyond symbolic moves and implement concrete steps.

In the end

Ok, that’s all, folks!

P.S. With regards to whether opposition-held constituencies will be involved in the new housing upgrading schemes, Ms Grace Fu, Minister of State for National Development, has said, in an interview after the National Day Rally (and shown on today’s Channel 8 6.30 p.m. news), that opposition-held constituencies would not be excluded. Hopefully, there would not be any hidden caveats to this.

P.P.S. To find out what local bloggers thought about this year’s National Day Rally, you all may refer to this site.

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