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Three fresh challenges to test Singapore's unity: PM Lee

STRENGTH IN UNITY: Mr Lee says that the most fundamental factor in keeping Singapore exceptional is not good plans or adequate resources, but whether the nation can stay united.


THERE are three new challenges ahead for Singapore that will test the country's resolve to remain united, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Message.

He called on all Singaporeans to band together to overcome the triple threat of economic uncertainty, the rise of extremist terrorism, and societal changes that put strains on the political system.

Mr Lee was addressing the nation in his annual message that was pre-recorded at Safra Punggol, a new recreational club near Punggol Waterway Park. It was broadcast on Monday, the eve of Singapore's 51st birthday.

He said that the economy was at a turning point, with globalisation and technological change both disrupting work and the way of life here. "Entire industries are being forced to innovate or perish. Our workers worry about their jobs. They face competition not only from workers elsewhere, but also from computers and robots." Turning to Singapore's strength as a harmonious multi-racial country, Mr Lee stressed that extremist terrorism could tear society apart. In recent months, terrorists inspired by the Islamic State group have perpetrated attacks in the US, Europe, Turkey, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The prime minister warned that "there will be more" attacks to come, with Singapore among the targets. "We have detained self-radicalised Singaporeans and foreign workers. If a terrorist attack were to occur here, will we stand together, or will we fall apart?"

While the political system in Singapore has delivered "good government, stability and progress", Mr Lee noted that that society was changing and that the nation's unity would face new strains. "How do we make sure Singapore continues to have clean and constructive politics, and effective and stable government? How do we avoid the pitfalls of populism or political gridlock?".

Mr Lee shared how other countries that are also facing similar challenges have already found themselves in trouble.

Multi-religious societies have been affected by the distrust and tensions brought about by terrorism. Advanced economies are experiencing growth that is disproportionately benefiting a minority of their population.

In cities across the world, graduates struggle to find jobs and young couples cannot afford to buy a home.

"As a result of all these challenges, politics in many countries has become divisive and angry. Voters lose faith in moderate parties in the political centre," said Mr Lee.

"Extreme views and parties gain support - not by offering better solutions, but by expressing voters' anger at their leaders, and frustration with the way things are," he said, citing the June 23 "Brexit" referendum that saw the UK vote to leave the European Union.

Mr Lee, however, believes that Singapore can be different when it comes to resisting these global forces.

Singapore acknowledges the threat of terrorism honestly, with both Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans standing side-by-side and strengthening the trust in a multi-religious society.

On its part, the government will invest in all citizens, be it by expanding and upgrading pre-schools, ensuring the SkillsFuture movement help working adults upgrade themselves, or supporting companies to transform themselves and innovate through R&D.

Mr Lee also said that the government has strengthened social safety nets and ensured that schemes such as the Pioneer Generation Package and Silver Support are sustainable.

On how Singapore will always have good government, he spoke of the need to keep the politics here constructive and to update the political system.

But the most fundamental factor in keeping Singapore exceptional is not good plans or adequate resources, but whether the nation can stay united, he said.

"It is our shared resolve to tackle challenges together that determines whether we succeed, and whether our children have a brighter future."

All four versions of Mr Lee's speech - in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil - can be viewed at