Singapore turns 50, celebrates its success amid challenges
Singapore threw a big party Sunday for its 50th anniversary of independence and unrivaled economic success in a region struggling with poverty and political instability, even as the citystate began feeling the pinch of a midlife crisis.
As f i ghter j ets screamed through the sky and nationalist songs blared, leaders made speeches and people took advantage of free rides on trains and buses. While marveling at the island’s leap from a poor colonial port to a wealthy metropolis, Singaporeans are also grappling with a growing resentment over political restrictions, an influx of foreign labor and a rising cost of living.
“This is a milestone. Coming from an older generation that has seen Singapore through the early years of independence, I know it took hard work by our leaders to get here,” said William Nathan, 70.
The weekend of celebrations culminates with fireworks after a military parade on Sunday. The sense of unity and pride in Singapore’s achievements was reinforced with a tribute video dedicated to its founder and longestserving leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March at age 91, after running a virtually one-party state.
To Lee and his cohort of leaders, setting Singapore on the path to economic success meant putting in place tough policies to try to harmonize a racial mix of majority Chinese and minority Malays and Indians.
Lee, who was prime minister for more than three decades, had no tolerance for political dissent. Opposition figures were either defeated in elections or taken to court on defamation charges until they were bankrupt. The country’s laws prohibit bankrupts from contesting elections.
His son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is now steering Singapore with similar restric- tions, and is facing a general election expected to be held Sept. 12. The ruling People’s Action Party, which holds 80 of 87 parliamentary seats, suffered its worst results in 2011 elections.
Most of the mainstream media are controlled by governmentlinked companies, and the few independent news websites that exist are wary of strict defamation laws that government leaders have often used to silence critics.
Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index ranked Singapore 153rd of 180 countries, below Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In this July 29, 1964 file photo, Singapore’s then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew stands on a vehicle as he addresses a rapt crowd in Singapore.