You’re tired, I’m sure, reading about all the “looking back’’ articles on 2017 in both online and offline media. The same hot topics everywhere, although with opinions that vary depending on the type of publication.
So I won’t bore you with recent history. I will go even further back!
In case you haven’t heard, Singapore will be going “biggish’’ on the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles setting foot on our tiny isle in 2019. Do not say the phrase “founding of Singapore’’, although those in my generation were taught this way in our little people days. The politically correct and historically accurate 1819 event is about how the English “discovered’’ the island – even though it’s been in existence way before Sang Nila Utama days.
So why celebrate this then, you ask? The answer from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: “Had Raffles not landed, Singapore might not have become a unique spot in Southeast Asia, quite different from the islands in the archipelago around us, or the states in the Malayan Peninsula.
“But because of Raffles, Singapore became a British colony, a free port, and a modern city. Our progress was not a straight line upwards. We experienced many dislocations and disruptions, including war and peace, economic depression and prosperity, struggle as well as success. But ultimately we came through, and became an independent nation.’’
Note that he was careful to preface this by saying that Singapore was already a maritime emporium in the 14th century, although it declined after that. Raffles’ landing, he said, marked a “key turning point’’.
Old(er) people will recollect that the 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1969, so this isn’t unprecedented for Singapore. Except that coming so soon after our 50th anniversary independence celebrations in 2015, it does make you wonder if we are just looking for an excuse to party.
What PM Lee said about 2019 brings about a sense of deja vu: “It is an important milestone for Singapore; an occasion for us to reflect on how our nation came into being, how we have come this far since, and how we can go forward together.’’
Didn’t we do this in 2015? What was the outcome of that year’s reflection? What was the upshot of all the articles, exhibitions, concerts and carnivals? Did we come together collectively to re-affirm our commonality and define our destiny?
I can’t remember anything about it besides the Pioneer Generation package which was a wonderful gift to the over-65s. They are our greatest generation, our survivors and stayers. It was fitting that all of them, regardless of income, should be honoured. But beyond that, what did we agree on?
That we will strive to become a smart nation underpinned by meritocracy? That’s not much of a rallying point especially since merit seemed to have been compromised by a race-based presidential election.
That we will strive to increase productivity, upskill and move away from mere paper qualifications to an emphasis on craftsmanship? That seems suitable for a corporation, not a vision for a country.
That we will go chasing rainbows, however ephemeral, because we are passionate and have potential? Will that work when we have questions about whether we can slog as hard as the pioneers and stay down to earth instead of harbouring unrealistic expectations?
Cynics will say that the result of the SG50 celebrations, which included loads of freebies, was a 70 per cent mandate for the People’s Action Party the next year. And doubtless, people will point to how the 200th anniversary celebrations would add to a feel-good climate for the general election which must be called by 2021. Or could well be a nice, assuring platform to announce the incoming prime minister.
It doesn’t matter what use the celebrations is being put to, frankly. I think the country has somewhat come apart in the last year or so. You can read my piece here.
I believe we need a new vision, and if going further into our history will help us forge one that goes beyond material progress and possessions, I am all for it.
I wrote this earlier in the day on my Facebook page.
We were divided…by the inclusion of race as a presidential prerequisite.
We were befuddled…by the crazy saga of the Lees at each other’s throats.
We got angry…with the failures of our train system which couldn’t keep water out.
We felt colder…because of the ISA arrests, contempt of court claims, the use of the OSA.
We were confused…about whether the economy was really doing better or not.
We were unsure …about the position of this little red dot in a post-Brexit, Xi and Trumpian world.
We were gobsmacked…at the extent of the corruption probe into a prized Singapore company
We were lost…in the guessing game of who would be our next PM.
It is not quite in my nature to focus on the negatives but I have to confess that I can’t quite remember the positives.
But in 2018, I am hoping for someone in the fourth generation leadership to emerge who will bring us together, articulate our commonalities and see strength in our differences. Who can paint our vision in an uplifting and inspirational manner that goes beyond promises of glitzier infrastructure and better economic numbers. Who will lead, not lecture.
Then a new Singapore story can be written…
PS. Sorry for title. Trying my hand at click-bait! Haaaahharrr