NDR 2021: 5 observations after watching PM Lee's 105-min rally

In his 17th NDR, PM Lee managed to inform and entertain at the same time.

Martino Tan | Sulaiman Daud | August 29, 2021, 10:23 PM

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2021 is a noteworthy year, as far as National Day Rallies (NDR) go.

It took place late in August, a week after the National Day Parade (NDP), which was postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In fact, NDR was also postponed to a week later.

It also took place in front of a much reduced audience, with others joining by Zoom videoconferencing platform, a mark of the times since the pandemic upended our lives.

But amidst the usual exhortations to stand together, understand one another and work towards the common good, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also announced tangible new policies, especially in the area of racial relations and manpower matters.

Here are some of the observations we made about PM Lee's NDR of Aug. 29.

1. New location, new vibe

This year's NDR was held at national public broadcaster Mediacorp for the first time.

Previous NDRs by PM Lee had been held at the Institute of Technical Education (7 times) and the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore (9 times).

When PM Lee brought the NDR to ITE, he said that he brought the rally to ITE "for a serious purpose - to underscore my long-standing commitment to investing in every person, every Singaporean, to his full potential".

Is there any significance in the NDR being held at Mediacorp?

It may be due to the fact that NDR has to take on a hybrid format due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rally had a studio audience of about 100 persons, with about 2,000 people joining the NDR via Zoom.

Before the start of his speech, PM waved to both the studio audience and the 2,000 people who were attending the NDR via Zoom.

With videos, powerpoint slides, and Zoom audience in the mix, it looks like future PMs will have to multi-task even more during NDR.

Source: PMO.

2. Special guests invited, including ESM Goh, Leader of the Opposition & former ministers

With only 100 persons as part of the studio audience, quite a number of political office-holders and parliamentarians are not present.

Afterall, there are 104 parliamentarians altogether, including 93 MPs, 2 NCMPs, and 9 NMPs.

So who are the non-parliamentarians who were invited?

They include Singaporeans who were featured in PM Lee's national day rally speeches.

From a brief scan, they include Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, former Ministers Khaw Boon Wan, Yaacob Ibrahim, and Lim Swee Say, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, Attorney-General Lucien Wong, several senior civil servants, and NTUC representatives.

Source: PMO.

3. PM Lee -- the entertainer

In his 17th National Day Rally, PM Lee was quite the entertainer.

Firstly, in his Malay speech, he dropped a cliffhanger when addressing the tudung issue.

“A few months ago, I told a group of asatizah and community leaders that I hoped to make a decision by National Day Rally. The day has come. The decision has been made.”

While most would assume that he would just announce the decision immediately, PM Lee decided to keep viewers hooked by saying the announcement will be made in his English speech.

Moving on to his Chinese speech, PM Lee cranked up the entertainment with these stanzas, complete with nice metre no less, when speaking about how we adapted to technology.

"大钞 换小钞,店家没得找,手机扫一扫,麻烦省不少。"(In English: No change? No problem. Scan with our phones and save the hassle).

At the conclusion of his Chinese speech, he even broke into a song called ‘In Springtime’ which started with a joyous mood.

“春天里来百花香,朗里格朗里格朗里格 朗”

Without missing a beat, he managed to turn the mood into an uplifting one immediately after the applause.

“The last few lines are the most meaningful: “Don’t be sad or dejected, for there will sometimes be strong winds and waves... keep going and don’t falter, for beyond the darkness comes the light of dawn”.

4. Content of speeches

If one was multi-lingual and paid close attention, they might notice a slight difference in the content of PM Lee's speeches in Malay, Chinese and English.

His English speech made many references to actual policies, those already in force, and others the government intends to introduce in the near future.

Aside from the major announcement that the government has changed its long-standing policy on Muslim nurses wearing the tudung while at work, allowing them to do so from Nov. 1 onwards, PM Lee also spoke of expanding the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme and extending the Progressive Wage Model to cover more professions.

He also announced that the government intends to pass a Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act, similar to the one we have already for Religious Harmony, and spoke of affording better protections for delivery riders.

His non-English speeches, however, were light on policy and trended more towards rhetoric.

In his Malay speech, PM Lee shared anecdotes about members of the Malay community, spoke of the need to maintain mutual respect across different communities, and encouraged viewers to get vaccinated.

In his Chinese speech, PM Lee shared anecdotes about members of the Chinese community, spoke of the need to maintain mutual respect across different communities, and also encouraged viewers to get vaccinated.

Perhaps PM Lee was trying to reach out more to the older Singaporeans, who may be more comfortable listening to his non-English speeches.

5. He bringin’ hum (and bak chor mee) back

Back in 2006, PM Lee changed mee siam forever.

“I give you an example. You put out a funny podcast, you talk about bak chor mee. I will say mee siam mai hum. Then we compete. Then what will I do? I will hire Jack Neo to be my National Day Rally advisor. It will be a fun time, we will enjoy it thoroughly, go home totally entertained. But is this the way to deal with serious issues?”

Fast forward 15 years later, he brought back his hum joke and bak chor mee (seemingly off the cuff) when he urged consumers to chip in a little more so that our lower wage workers can earn higher wages.

“Pay a little bit more for some of our favourite things, like bubble tea or bak chor mee -- with or without hum -- to help the shop cover higher cleaning and waste collection costs.”

A light-hearted moment in this year’s rally, which included serious topics on race and religion.

Does PM Lee have his bak chor mee with hum? Or was it a self-deprecating sense of humour? One thing’s for sure: Singaporeans will jump on this because food is sacrosanct in Singapore.

Expect some F&B businesses to jump on the hum-wagon in 3… 2...

Other National Day Rally stories

Top image from PMO YouTube.

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