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.

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