SINGAPORE - On Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a National Day Rally in which he painted a new way forward, one where the Government acknowledges it needs to do more to shield citizens from the harsh effects of market forces. But there were other points to note as well. Here were some - not always serious points - that caught the eye.
1. Something for everyone
By now, the middle-class is used to being by-standers on occasions like these. Any changes to try and give Singaporeans a leg-up tend to be targeted at the lower income. That wasn't the case on Sunday. The middle-class was certainly left with much to chew on.
If anything, changes like housing subsidies for those buying 4-room flats, MediShield that covers pre-existing illnesses, a less stressful PSLE and more open admission to primary school, all seem to target the core concerns of those in-between.
2. We're all in this together
For all the talk of the Government doing more, PM Lee also made a point of stressing that Singaporeans have to stand up and be counted as well. PM Lee devoted an entire section to recognising ordinary Singaporeans who stepped up and filled a gap when they saw one, instead of waiting for the Government to do it.
Yet how far that call for personal responsibility is going to get remains to be seen as the Government simulstaneously moves to do more. You know what they say about banyan trees and shade...
3. Where will the rally be held next year?
The brand, new and very impressive ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio was the setting for the National Day Rally for the first time, in part because the emphasis on education. With that emphasis unlikely to be repeated next year, will ITE still play host?
I am going to say yes. The rally does not travel light and it is likely it took a lot of effort to get the ITE auditorium up to mark for a production like this. It would be waste not to reuse them at least for a few years.
4. Hands up
Public speaking coaches will tell you that taking a show off hands can be a bit of a risk, especially for a large crowd. You can never really tell what you are going to get. PM Lee gave it a go anyway, taking a snap poll on how much people thought a new 3-room flat in Punggol would cost.
The result: PM ultimately got the outcome he wanted for the point he was making (BTO flats are more affordable than people think) but he did require a run-off straw poll to get there. Maybe it was because he miscalculated how low people's price expectations were or that this was a crowd who all already knew the correct answer. Either way, I'm guessing we've seen the end of the informal audience polls.
5. No such thing as a free lunch
Make no mistake, this was one expensive speech. In a little under two hours, PM Lee seems to have pledged billions of dollars in increased social spending. Universal, compulsory health insurance was the big ticket item and healthcare costs will only grow as Singapore's society ages. Granted, any mention of how much the Government was spending was conspicuously missing.
PM Lee touched only briefly on how all this will be funded, hinting at some increase in MediSave contributions and MediShield premiums down the road. The mention of price hikes will certainly not go down well, but it was perhaps the right move to make it clear that more spending must be funded from somewhere. (Cue the usual suspects calling for a draw down of reserves.)