7 things you need to know from PM Lee's National Day Rally 2016 speech

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday at ITE College Central addressed issues ranging from economy to security, and even the elected presidency.

The rally was suspended at around 9.20pm when Mr Lee was taken ill. It resumed at 10.40pm.

If you missed his speeches tonight, here's a round-up of some key points:

1. Government has been acting quietly to take precautions against terrorism

Mr Lee revealed during the rally that the government had been quietly acting on information and taken precautions against terrorist attacks in Singapore.

Some of the measures included stepping up patrols, raising protection for major events, and even shifted and rescheduled events because of these threats.

"So when you see a patrol in the city or some extra security in some areas, it may be we are just taking precautions or doing a show of force as deterrence. But it could also be in response to a real threat we know about" said Mr Lee.

In light of the recent radicalization cases, Mr Lee also called on the Muslim community leaders to make the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) compulsory.

The scheme ensures that religious teachers and scholars are reliable guides for the community.

Read also: Muslim leaders call for all Islamic teachers to be registered

"These measures will ensure that all asatizah in Singapore understand how Islam is practised here, and can guide their students to live in harmony with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions," said Mr Lee.

2. Important for Singapore to have minority race President from time to time

A safeguard is needed to ensure that from time to time, a non-Chinese Singaporean becomes President, said Mr Lee in his Malay speech.

He explained that minority races in Singapore have to feel they are well-represented in the political system.

Read also: 'Minority-only contest would send wrong signal'

"We had Encik Yusof Ishak, Prof Benjamin Sheares, Mr Devan Nair, and Mr Wee Kim Wee. But now that the President is elected in a national election, it is harder for a non-Chinese to get elected as President.

"Before Presidents were elected, when Parliament chose the President, we had Presidents from all races - Encik Yusof Ishak, Dr Benjamin Sheares, Mr Devan Nair, and Mr Wee Kim Wee.

"If it happens naturally, like it did with President S R Nathan, that is good. But if it does not happen for a long time, minorities will become disappointed and uneasy, and rightly so.

"The issue can be politicised and manipulated to provoke ill-feelings in minority communities and divide us in future. We must make the changes now and take action while it is peaceful and the society is united," said Mr Lee.

He ensured that every President who is elected would meet the same high standards and stringent qualifying criteria no matter the race of the candidate for President.

3. Heng Swee Keat to resume duties as Finance Minister

Heng Swee Keat will be resuming duties as Minister for Finance, announced Mr Lee.

He added that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will stop covering as Acting Minister.

He will also be appointing Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong as 2nd Minister to help Mr Heng out with the operational responsibilities at the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Heng had collapsed during a Cabinet Meeting on May 12 and was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital immediately, where it was revealed that he had suffered a stroke due to an aneurysm.

"Minister or not, all of us are mortal.

"Heng Swee Keat recently gave us a bad scare. I am very glad that he pulled through, and is steadily recovering his strength," said Mr Lee.

He also thanked the team from Singapore Civil Defence Force who responded to the emergency call and "did an excellent job".

4. Disruption is the "defining challenge" facing Singapore economy

While Singapore is facing economic issues such as slower growth, helping people upgrade and strengthening safety nets, Mr Lee said that the defining challenge is disruption.

"Change is fast and relentless. Disruption will happen over and over again," said Mr Lee.

He cited the taxi business as an example, where private car hire services such as Uber and Grab are competing with taxis in cities all over the world.

"We can respond to change in the industry in two ways: Close yourselves off and try to stop people from using the new technology or to embrace change and let the disruption happen," said Mr Lee.

Another example he brought up were the challenges faced by brick and mortar retail stores, where consumers' shopping habits have not changed and are now buying items online.

Every industry is getting disrupted in its own way and in order to be able to spot changes and to prepare workers to do different and new jobs, Mr Lee said that the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is tasked to do just that: Build new capabilities, promote entrepreneurship and develop skills.

5. Singapore's relationship with Malaysia and Indonesia

PM Lee explained that Singapore has worked hard to build ties with its neighbours, but these are "sensitive and complex relationships".

While there will be differences from time to time, and that "this abang-adik attitude (big brother attitude) has not changed since we became independent", it should not affect border bilateral cooperation.

On the whole, relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are good, said Mr Lee.

The MOU on the high-speed rail between Singapore and Malaysia was signed, and Mr Lee said he meets up with Indonesian President Jokowi regularly to tack issues such as trans-boundary haze.

6. Singapore does not take sides in South China Sea disputes but has a lot at stake

Regarding South China Sea disputes, Mr Lee said Singapore does not take sides on specific claims of China, the Philippines and other claimants.

However, Singapore has a lot at stake, especially if one of the two vital arteries - Straits of Malacca and Singapore Straits - is blocked off.

"So it is important to us that the disputes in the South China Sea do not affect freedom of navigation or overflight by ships or aircraft," said Mr Lee.

Read also: Beijing to S'pore: Respect China's position on South China Sea issue

7. "If God asked you for 3 things for Singapore, what would it be?"

Mr Lee revealed that somebody had once asked him at a dialogue "If God appeared before you and asked you for three things that you would want for Singapore, what would these be?"

His reply? Is that "we be blessed with a divine discontent, always dissatisfied with where we are, always driven to do better. And yet, that we have the wisdom to count our blessings."

Mr Lee said that if just these two wishes are fulfilled, it will be enough for Singaporeans to "keep building something special in Singapore for many more years".

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klim@sph.com.sg