National Day Rally 2016 Speech (Chinese)

National Day Rally 2016 Speech (Chinese)

 

PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech on 21 August 2016 at the Institute of Technical Education College Central. He spoke in Malay and Chinese, followed by English.
Here is the transcript of the Chinese speech in full.

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各位同胞,大家晚上好!

去年,我们庆祝了新加坡的金禧年,现在,我们已经步入第二个五十年;国家已取得不错的成就,也有相当稳固的基础。但是,为了要确保继续拥有美好未来,繁荣稳定。我们必须寻找新的机会,同时要做好准备,面对新的挑战。

今晚的华语演讲,我将针对其中三个挑战谈话:第一,我们企业的发展与转型。第二,我们工友的生计和生活保障。第三,我们多元种族社会的稳定与和谐。

帮助我们的企业

首先,让我谈谈新加坡企业的发展。

大家都很关注我国经济的表现。

我们今年的经济增长预测,已经调低到百分之一到二之间。劳动市场也放缓了,失业率有上升的迹象。我们的企业,尤其是中小型企业,生意停滞不前,不容易扩展业务。

随着国家经济越来越发达,要取得新的突破就会越来越不容易,经济增长的速度必定会放缓。在过去十年里,我们习惯了每年平均取得百分之五到七的经济增长。很可惜,现在要维持这样的增幅是不可能的。这不单是新加坡的问题,其他发达国家也面对同样的现象。

此外,科技的创新也改变了现有的经济模式,一些传统企业都相应做出调整以避免被淘汰,比如,现在正好是中元节。以前,大家都会亲自到冥纸店去买祭品 ,而现在有些冥纸店已经上网了顾客在网上订购的话,冥纸店还会把祭品送到家门,方便得多。有些业者就发现,网络生意比实体店多出一半。

 邻里的咖啡店也可能有新的竞争对手了。盛港西就有一家“自动贩卖餐厅”(VendCafe) 在国庆日前开张。无论是海鲜河粉还是砂煲鸡饭,顾客只要在贩卖机上按下几个按钮,不到三分钟,就可以享用热腾腾的本地美食。而且,这种新型的餐厅是24 小时营业,不需要工人,也不用申请工作准证 。

我也听说有些人到乌节路逛百货商场或名牌店,只是为了试穿衣服 ,不买的,过后回家上网订购。这就是新常态。而且受影响的不只是零售业、服务业和餐饮业而已。所以,企业不管规模大小都必须做出改变,才能继续生存。中小型企业为了转型,面对不少压力,有的甚至吃不消。因此,标新局 (SPRING Singapore) 和新加坡国际企业发展局 (IE Singapore) 针对中小型企业的需求,推出新的措施,帮助它们发展新的专长,利用科技扩大生意,开拓海外市场。让我感到欣慰的是,中华总商会和其他商会也很积极地帮助会员寻找新的商机,推出各种计划帮助它们。

经过一番努力,我们已经看到了一些亮点,例如在一般制造业、家具设计、食品业等方面 。有些传统公司转型 ,成功地向海外发展。比如,有一家叫陆升的公司。陆升,什么是陆升?Luzerne。它的名字听起来好像是欧洲公司。其实是新加坡品牌,由协发控股所创办,Hiap Huat。Hiap Huat是一个传统企业,有近70年的历史。2004年,协发创办了陆升专门设计精美的陶瓷餐具,目的就是提升形象,希望吸引更高档的国内外客户,扩大商机。而许多国际顶级餐厅、酒店和知名厨师都已经成了陆升的客户 。

陆升在海外闯出一片天,可是通往成功的道路并不只有一个。我们也有利用科技成功转型的例子,比如香味肉干。这个也是老字号。1969 年开始营业,现在已经四十七年了。香味肉干为了提高产量,并维持肉干的品质,把部份工作流程机械化了。以前要用人工把腌好的肉片铺在竹箕上,现在这个过程已经机械化。不过新的机器不能做所有的工作。为了保持传统的口味,肉干还是用人工炭烤的,味道还是一样香!香味肉干也通过网站,把肉干卖给世界各地的客户,无论你在哪一个国家,都可以上网订购。可见传统企业可以利用科技,开拓新市场。不过今晚,在座各位不需要上网订购,等一下招待会,就有肉干吃了!

我们常说,危机也能带来转机。希望中小型企业能善加利用政府为你们量身定制的配套,进行转型,提升本地业绩或到海外发展。

支持我们的工友

 第二,除了帮助企业,政府也推出了多项计划,跟企业合作,帮助工友调整,适应环境的改变。不少雇主也积极地帮助员工提升技能,借此提高生产力。

我举两个例子:第一位是柯连基先生,57岁了。柯先生在香味肉干工作了三十年,以前的工作包括负责确保肉干厚度均匀,就是把肉酱涂在竹箕上。可是现在,这份工作机械化了,他就有更多的时间指导新员工操作肉干机器,或研究如何改善生产过程。在同样的公司尝试新的任务,给了他新的推动力,因为他可以为公司创造更多价值。第二位培训后受惠的工友,是54岁的伍耀昌先生。伍先生本来是在建筑业工作,不过后来被裁退了。为了养家,他当了五年的私人司机。去年初,他的雇主离开新加坡时,他又失业了 。他这次再找工作,花了将近一年的时间。皇天不负有心人,伍先生终于在今年六月加入Edwards LifeSciences,负责制造人工心脏瓣膜 (artificial heart valves),不简单。因为伍先生做惯了比较粗重的工.作,现在要他做细腻的缝纫工作,自然有顾虑。不过经过公司的培训,他不但可以胜任,还即将考获专业资格。所以我们恭喜柯先生和伍先生。

我很明白,大家都很担心生计, 这也是政府非常关心的课题。我们采取的大方针就是帮助企业转型,并通过技能创前程计划(SkillsFuture)帮助工友 。俗话说:“行行出状元”,SkillsFuture 的目的就是鼓励大家在各自的领域里,精深技能。无论你是工程师,还是销售员,都可以通过这项计划提升自己,或是学习新技能,通过不同的途径取得成功。所以我希望大家能够配合,利用政府和雇主的各项援助,确保自己的技能是跟得上时代。就像柯先生和伍先生一样,勇敢地把握机会,不断地学习,不断地尝试新工作。

另一方面,政府也帮助工友的家庭解决各种生活上的问题,让所有的家庭老有所养,壮有所用,幼有所长。过去十年,政府推出了多项措施和配套,加强社会安全网 。现在的社会开销是十年前的三倍,惠及更多国人。

例如,超过四十万名工友在就业奖励计划(Workfare)下获得补贴.社区关怀基金(ComCare) 每年平均帮助将近九万名国。而终身健保计划实行后,每一个国人都获得保费津贴。也就是说,大家多少都得到了一点帮助,而特别需要帮助的人,得到更多的帮助。

我们尤其关心退休人士。因此,我们推出了终身健保和建国一代配套,帮助大家应付医药费 。我们还改善了公积金终身入息计划(CPF Life),提高了公积金存款利率,也推出了乐龄补贴计划。

我们还有一项未完成的工作,那就是加强乐龄健保计划(ElderShield) 我们的社会急速老化,很多家庭里,上有年迈的父母,下有年幼的孩子。尤其是碰到父母亲或老一辈的家人病了,或是行动不方便、需要坐轮椅等等,医药费和其他的开销都会增加。这是很普遍的现象。数据显示,两个人当中就有一个人老了之后,有一天会长期患病,不能照顾自己。我们在邻里举办活动,或走访居民时,经常遇到这样的老人。其实,大家在自己的家庭里,也可能亲身经历过。而有一天,我们自己也会变老,也有可能需要家人的照顾。

这就是为什么我们在2002年推出乐龄健保计划 。这是一项保险计划。如果老人无法照顾自己的生活起居,不能自己吃饭、冲凉、 长期卧病在床、行动不方便那么乐龄健保就提供每个月几百块的补贴,无论是补贴护理费用还是聘请帮佣,都能够帮助你减轻一点负担。目前,已经有超过7,000名投保人在乐龄健保计划下受惠了 。但是,乐龄健保计划还有待改善。因为现在,不是每个人都加入这项计划。而且,这项计划的补贴最多只提供六年,钱可能不够用。卫生部将成立一个委员会来检讨这项计划。希望涵盖更多的人、提供更好的保障,同时确保保费是大家能够负得起的。乐龄健保计划扩大之后,我们的社会安全网就可说是相当完善了。

加强多元种族的和谐社会

我刚刚谈了经济和生活保障的问题,这些都是我经常在国庆群众大会上讲的课题。不过今晚,我要谈一谈我们的种族和谐与政治体系我一般上,很少在这个场合提这些课题今晚特别要讲,原因有两个。第一,恐怖主义是严峻的挑战,随时会破坏我们宝贵的种族和谐。第二,在过去20 年里,我们在种族和谐方面取得了很大的进展, 不过我们仍必须密切留意渐渐出现的新问题,并且及时应付它们。这个课题影响深远,所以我希望大家关注 。

建立一个多元种族社会是建国的核心理想,也是我们的立国之本新加坡能有今天的和谐,建国一代,尤其是华社,功不可没。他们和政府携手合作,奠定了一个多元、和谐社会的基础。这些年来,我们都继续确保各族人民和谐相处,同时也保留了自身的文化。

很高兴看到,华社和华文媒体不断地以不同的方式,发扬我们独特的华族文化。几个月前,我看了年轻导演邓宝翠的《我们唱着的歌》,感到很感动,许多华校生也产生了很大的共鸣,不少的年轻人也因此对新谣产生了新一轮的兴趣。联合早报今年也举行了《新空下》全国学生新谣歌唱及创作比赛 。我希望这类活动能延续下去,激发年轻一代对新谣以及对华文的热情。

在弘扬华族文化和语言的同时,我们也能够包容不同的文化 。例如,每个农历新年举办的妆艺大游行,本来只是华族的庆祝活动。舞狮、舞龙是传统的庆祝。可是我们配合新加坡的国情,丰富了妆艺大游行的表演内容。这个是人民协会做的好事。今天,妆艺已经成为一个多姿多彩,包含了多元文化特色的大汇演。华社也从不忘记帮助其他族群的同胞。例如,华社自助理事会的一些计划,包括职业配对和补习,也让其他种族受惠。佛教居士林也为不同种族和宗教的人士提供各项援助。

经过多年的相处,大家在直觉上都明白各种族和宗教,都必须互相迁就,互相包容,才能维持种族和谐,和睦共处。华社是这样,其他种族也是如此。例如居住在组屋区的华族同胞,每逢中元节烧冥纸时,已经改变了习惯。以前,一定要在家门前的空地上烧,现在会在特别提供的桶里烧,改变习惯了,适应我们的新环境。这一来就能够减少冥纸的灰烬到处飞,也减少空气污染回教堂考虑到附近邻里的居民,在播放祈祷召唤的时候,会把声量调低。印度同胞在举行大宝森节(Thaipusam) 游行时,为了维持公共秩序,只在指定的地点演奏宗教音乐,而不是全程奏乐 。

另一方面,新加坡人,民以食为天,各族一起用餐,边吃边谈 ,也能增进彼此之间的感情。在新加坡,各种族和各宗教对饮食的要求都不一样。因此,我们就要体谅彼此不同的需要,在办活动的时候做出适当的安排。让大家都能吃到自己新欢吃的美食,而不是把自己的意愿强加在其他人的身上。就像今晚的招待会,我们绞尽脑汁,花了一番功夫,准备了特别的菜单。菜单能够符合各种族和宗教的饮食习惯的菜单,我念一念给你们听:有适合回教徒同胞食用的牛肉汤面,Soto Babat。有印度餐点,包括印度煎饼,Chapati,中式菜肴有Kong Bak Bao 。欧亚式菜肴也有咖喱三文鱼 我也安排了素食和国际美食。饮料就包括汽水和啤酒。这个暂时画饼充饥,等一下真的有的吃的。待会儿,请大家尽情享用,不过请记得喝酒的话,酒后不要开车!在比较小型的活动,我们不能够这么周到,不过我们也会尽量提供选择,希望大家都能够迁就。不过有时候,如果吃的是水果,好像大家爱吃的榴梿,那个就当然不成问题了。去年年底,我出席了盛港南家庭日嘉年华会,颜添宝议员邀请我,所以我跟他,跟居民们享受了一顿榴梿大餐 。这个榴梿派对很受欢迎,每年都会吸引各族的居民带着全家人和邻居一起参加,也包括来自外国的居民。所以你看,爸爸、妈妈,爱吃榴梿的,孩子还在学吃 。我记得那天晚上,大家都吃得很开心,气氛很好。我希望各族经常一起用餐,联络感情。

我们还可以通过其他方面,让新加坡继续贯彻多元种族的原则。这包括确保我们的政治体系,能够加强人民对国家的认同感,也让所有的族群觉得这个制度对每个人是合理的。尽管这五十年来,政府致力通过教育、住屋、还有许许多多的政策,促进各种族宗教的和谐共处。不过我们的社会还没有完全达到对所有种族,无论肤色或语言,都一视同仁的理想。

建国总理去年过世后,我走访了丹戎巴葛。当时,高级政务部长Indranee跟我随行,她帮助李先生照顾丹戎巴葛已经很多年了,也讲一口流利的广东话。不过,还是有一位居民找我,告诉我说:“总理,请派一名会讲双语的部长到这里来。”我很想告诉他,“Indranee广东话不错啊!”不过我了解他的意思。

这不仅是这位丹戎巴葛居民的意愿。这是全国不少选民都会有的心态,其实,全世界每一个多元种族社会都是这样的。因为这是人之常情。我们都觉得跟相同文化,语言、种族的人士交流会比较亲切、比较自在,也会比较容易接受对方,产生共鸣,办起事来就比较方便,这是很自然的 。因此选举时,选民总是会问(或至少会想),这位候选人会不会讲我的语言?我能不能够直接跟他沟通、交流?是不是需要通过翻译?他是不是了解我的文化习俗,认同我的宗教信仰?

所以,在新加坡,语言和种族仍旧是影响选举的一个因素。在条件相等的情况下,一位少数种族的候选人在华人占多数的选区竞选,就会处于劣势。而在新加坡,每个选区都是华人多数。这也是我们实行集选区制度的原因。集选区制度确保了少数民族能在国会拥有他们的代议士。我们必须坦然地面对这个问题。要让一名非华族候选人竞选,进入国会,要当议员,已经不容易了。何况一位少数民族候选人当选国家总统,那更困难 。

所以,今年初,我提议修改宪法,调整民选总统制度,其中就包括确保我国每隔一段时间,有一位非华族的总统。

自从我提出这个建议后,我留意到有一些不同的观点有人质问,既然我们的理想是不分种族、言语、宗教,那我们何必做这样的安排?为什么不让选举顺其自然地举行?或许也有一些人认为,我们是华人居多的国家,即使华人当总统,那也没有什么不对,我了解这些观点。可是我们必须实事求是,正视我们社会的情况。在现有的制度下,我们很可能长期没有一位非华族国人当选总统。这个如果长期继续下去的话,会削弱非华族同胞对国家的认同感, 影响我国社会的凝聚力。这关系到新加坡的社会和谐,关系到我国的发展与安全。

我们必须确保每隔一段时间,就有一位马来籍,印度藉或是其他少数种族的国人当总统,这是至关重要的。总统是国家的元首,他是团结国民的代表人物,必须能够把各族人民团结起来,必须代表各族同胞。

我们的前总统纳丹先生就是一个很好的例子。纳丹先生属于印度藉,不过作为国家元首,他照顾的是所有族群的新加坡人他积极了解各族文化,诚心诚意拉近与各族的距离。

所以,我希望华族同胞支持这个宪法的改革。这样,将来优秀的非华族人选,能够当选总统,代表所有新加坡人。

总结

我今晚谈到的三点,基本上都关系我们国家,社会的团结。经济方面,我们要让大家,不管是较富有的国人,还是较低收入的国人,都能享受经济繁荣的果实。所以,我们的企业必须转型,这样我国才会有蓬勃的经济,为人民提供良好的就业机会。生计方面,我们要为工友和他们的家人提供生活保障,确保我们齐步向前迈进,没有人留在后头。种族和谐方面,我们必须调整我国的政治体系,让各个种族都有参与感, 都以身为新加坡国民感到自豪。这才能确保新加坡面对挑战的时候,甚至遇到危机的时候,大家可以更团结,从容应对。

所以我们要坚守多元种族原则,让它延续下去。就像信约里所要落实的愿景:不分种族、言语、宗教,团结一致,建设公正平等的民主社会。

让我们和先辈一样,不怕困难,勇敢面对挑战,肩负起为下一代开拓新局面的使命。

我们要把握机遇,迈向更光明的前程,为下一代打造一个更美好,更灿烂的未来。

谢谢!

 

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English Translation of Chinese Speech
 

My fellow Singaporeans, good evening!

Last year, we celebrated our Jubilee. Now, we are into our next 50 years. We have achieved some success and now have a stable foundation. But to ensure that we continue to prosper and have a bright future, we need to look for new opportunities, and be prepared for new challenges. 

Tonight, I want to address three issues. First, the transformation of our businesses. Second, the livelihoods of our workers and support for their families. Third, the stability and cohesion of our multi-racial society.

Economy – Helping our Businesses

First, our businesses. The economy is on everyone's mind.

This year, our growth has slowed and we have revised our growth estimate down to 1-2%. The labour market has cooled, unemployment has gone up a little bit. Companies, particularly SMEs, are noticing that business has stagnated.

As our economy matures, our growth will naturally slow. Last decade, we grew between 5-7% on average, and we got used to that. Given where we are now, this rapid pace of growth is no longer sustainable. Growth is slowing not only in Singapore, but in other economies too. 

Furthermore, technology is disrupting the current economic model. For example, it is the festival of hungry ghosts now. We used to visit shops to buy incense and joss paper. Now we can do so online. The shops deliver to your doorstop, making it very convenient for all. The revenue online is 50% more than what you can earn from a physical shop.

Neighbourhood coffeeshops also face competition. A new "Vendcafe" just opened in Sengkang West. Be it seafood horfun or claypot chicken rice, customers just need to press a few buttons, and within minutes, piping hot local food is ready. Furthermore, this new style restaurant operates 24/7 and it does not need a single service staff, so they don't have to apply for work permits.

I hear that people would go to Orchard Road to try out new clothes, and then use smartphones to order online.  

This is the new normal. It not only affects the retail, service and food industries. Companies big or small will need to adapt in order to thrive. I know that SMEs particularly find it challenging to transform and tough to survive. That is why SPRING and IE Singapore are working hard to help SMEs build new capabilities, use technology, and expand overseas. I'm happy also that the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry and many trade associations are pitching in to help their members look for new business opportunities and are organising programmes to help businesses. 

There are still bright spots in many sectors, from General Manufacturing to Furniture Design to Food. Some traditional businesses have transformed themselves and successfully expanded overseas. For example, Luzerne. Its name sounds like that of a European company. But actually it's a Singapore brand, started by Hiap Huat Holdings. Hiap Huat is nearly 70 years old. They established Luzerne in 2004, which specialises in designing bespoke tableware, attracting higher-end clients, thereby increasing profits. Their clients now include the world's leading restaurants, hotels and celebrity chefs.

Expanding overseas is one way to transform. Another is to use technology to innovate, e.g. Fragrance Foodstuff Group. It is a long established brand – started in 1969, in operation for 47 years. To increase its productivity, it automated part of its production process. Workers used to arrange the marinated meat on bamboo trays. Now machines do so. But the machines cannot do everything. The bakwa still needs to be barbecued over charcoal for the best taste! Fragrance is also selling their bakwa online, so you can order it anywhere in the world.  This shows how businesses can use technology to innovate and grow their market. Those present at the rally tonight, you don't have to order online. You can try some at the reception later!

We often say, "In crisis, there is opportunity." I hope businesses will tap on our schemes to transform themselves, to increase productivity or expand overseas.

Supporting our Workers

Second, apart from helping our businesses, Government has rolled out many programmes to help workers adjust to the new environment. Many businesses are also helping their workers gain new skills and upgrade, thus improving their productivity.

Two examples – the first, Mr Kuah Leng Kee, 57 years old. He worked with Fragrance for 30 years. He used to be in charge of making sure the bakwa is spread evenly on the trays. With automation, he is now in charge of training, and finding ways to improve the production process. He works in the same company, but he has a new job – and he feels more motivated as he can add more value to his company. Another person who has benefitted from our programmes is Mr Goh Yew Cheong, 54 years old. He previously worked in the construction sector but was retrenched. To support his family, he worked as a driver for 5 years. But last year, he found himself out of a job again when his employer moved overseas. This time it took nearly a year for him to find a new job. But his perseverence paid off and he joined Edwards LifeSciences in June 2016, as an Associate Heart Valve Specialist. Given his previous experience with heavy work, he was initially concerned if he could cope with fine needlework. But with proper training, he is performing well and is due for certification soon

I know everyone is concerned about their livelihoods. The government is concerned too. Our strategy is to help businesses transform, and use SkillsFuture to help workers. There is a saying that we can achieve excellence in every profession. That is the goal of SkillsFuture – to help all excel. Whether you are an engineer or a retail associate, you can upgrade or learn new skills, via different pathways. But I hope you will do your part. Tap on SkillsFuture, and keep your skills relevant in the market. Learn to be like Mr Kuah and Mr Goh, who boldly tried out new jobs and kept themselves updated. 

Apart from helping workers with SkillsFuture, we are also helping your families through the cycles of life, from young to old. In the last ten years, we have strengthened our social safety nets. The government has tripled its social spending and is now supporting more people. For example, more than 400,000 now receive the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS). On average, close to 90,000 benefit from Comcare yearly. All of us are covered by Medishield Life. All of you would have received some help from the government, and those who are in need, have received more help.

In particular, we have strengthened our support for the elderly. We implemented MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package to help them with medical expenses. And we implemented CPF LIFE, provided extra CPF interest for older members, and introduced Silver Support.

One remaining piece to strengthen is ElderShield. Necessary because our society is aging rapidly. Many families have elderly parents as well as young children. If our parents or elderly family members fall ill, become immobile and are wheelchair-bound, expenses will increase. This is not uncommon. Statistics show that at some point, one in every two persons will become bed-ridden, and will not be able to look after themselves. When we organise community events or visit residents, we encounter many elderly in this situation. We experience it in our own families too. One day all of us will grow old and will need others to look after us. 

That is why we introduced ElderShield in 2002. It is an insurance scheme. If you are old, unable to wash yourself, feed yourself, or become wheelchair-bound or bedridden. ElderShield will provide a payout of a few hundred dollars a month, to help you with your nursing and care needs or with the cost of employing a maid. Since it started more than 7,000 have benefitted from the scheme. But we need to improve ElderShield. It does not cover everyone and its payouts are limited to six years, which may not be enough. MOH will form a committee to study this. We hope Eldershield will be able to cover more people, provide more protection and remain affordable. With the enhanced ElderShield, we will have all the components of our social safety net in place.

Strengthening our Multi-racial Society

I just discussed our economy and our social protection, which are topics I usually speak about. But tonight, I want to speak also about multi-racialism and our political system. This is not something I usually discuss at this rally, but they are important issues.

There are two reasons. First, because we face a serious problem with terrorism, which can rend our multi-racial fabric. Second, we have made a lot of progress with racial harmony over the past 50 years, but we must still watch for emerging problems, and deal with them in good time. These issues have far-reaching implications, so I hope everyone will consider these matters carefully.

Multiracialism is our founding ideal, the reason why we became independent, and the basis on which we built Singapore. Actually, the social harmony that Singapore enjoys today is the result of the Pioneer Generation, especially the strong commitment from the Chinese community. They worked with the government to build the foundations of a multi-racial and harmonious society. We have always worked hard to strengthen multi-racialism, while ensuring that each group can preserve its own culture and identity.

Glad to see that the Chinese community and media have done a lot to promote Chinese language and culture. I watched young director Eva Tang's "The Songs We Sang" and was moved. The documentary resonated with many Chinese-educated Singaporeans and ignited interest among the young in Xinyao. Lianhe Zaobao organised a Xinyao Singing and Composition Contest. I encourage more of such activities, so that a new generation can be interested in Xinyao and Singapore Chinese culture.

Even as we promote Chinese culture and language, we also include other cultures. For example, every Chinese New Year, we hold the Chingay Parade. It started as a Chinese activity. Now, all races participate. As a result, it is today a vibrant multicultural parade, celebrating our unique multi-racial society. Chinese community groups not only help Chinese, but also other racial groups. For example, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) offers some of their programmes to other races, including job placements and tuition. The Singapore Buddhist Lodge helps everyone, regardless of race or religion.

The Chinese community instinctively understands the importance of multi-racialism, the need to be inclusive, and to compromise so as to maintain our social harmony. Indeed, this has become the second nature of all races. For example, during the 7th Month Festival, Chinese HDB residents burn joss paper in special joss paper burners, instead of the old custom of burning them in the open. The burners prevent the ashes from flying around and reduces air pollution too. Our mosques take care not to disturb their neighbours by lowering the volume of the azan (call to prayer). During the Thaipusam procession, musicians perform at fixed points, rather than while walking alongside the devotees.

Food is important to Singaporeans. When the different races share meals with one another, it can bring them closer together. In Singapore, each race and religion has different food preferences. So when we organise activities, we accommodate each group's requirements, so each can eat what he likes and not impose on someone else. That is why even for tonight's reception, I made sure that there is something for everyone. For my Muslim friends, we have soto babat. For Indians, chapati. For Chinese, kong bak bao. For Eurasians, baked salmon with curry. We also have vegetarian and international cuisine. There are soft drinks and beer, but please don't drink and drive! For other less elaborate occasions, we also offer a variety of options but on a smaller scale. But when we can share fruits, e.g. durians, there is no problem. For example, last year, I attended Sengkang South’s Fruits Fiesta and had a durian party with Gan Thiam Poh and his residents. The durian party is one of his most popular community activities. Families attend with their neighbours. The parents in the photo are enjoying the durians, but I am not sure about their daughter. I remember the durians were very fragrant, and all of us, from all races, enjoyed ourselves, even our foreign friends. I hope all races will eat with each other frequently, and stay in touch.

There are other ways to realise the ideal of multi-racialism, including in our political system. We should strengthen it to enable all to identify themselves with the country, and for all races to feel that the system is fair. In the last 50 years, the government has promoted religious and racial harmony through education, housing, and many other policies but we are not yet completely race-blind. 

After Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away, I visited Tanjong Pagar. SMS Indranee Rajah, who helped Mr Lee look after his residents, accompanied me. She has served there for many years and speaks Cantonese fluently but one of the residents told me: "PM, please send us a bilingual minister".

These sentiments are present not just at Tanjong Pagar. There are voters of every race in every constituency who feel this way. Actually, similar sentiments are present in every multi-racial society. It's human nature. We feel more comfortable interacting and working with people who share the same culture, language and ethnicity as we do. We accept each other more readily.Therefore, during elections, voters often wonder – or they would have thought of it – if their candidates are able to communicate with them in their mother tongue? Can I speak directly to him and engage him comfortably? Does he understand me, where I am coming from, my culture and faith?

So, in Singapore, language and race do play a role in elections. All things being equal, a minority candidate contesting in a Chinese majority constituency is at a disadvantage. In Singapore, every constituency is majority Chinese. This is why we have GRCs, to ensure that there will always be minority MPs in Parliament.

Let's be honest with ourselves and deal with this squarely. For a non-Chinese to become an MP, it is not easy. For a non-Chinese to be elected President is even harder.

Hence, I proposed changes to the elected President scheme in January, to make sure that from time to time, we will have a non-Chinese President.

Since the announcement, I have heard some feedback. People have said, "Since Singapore is multi-racial, and we say 'regardless of race, language or religion', why is there a need to make provisions for minorities? Why not let the elections run their natural course?". Some may feel that since we are a majority Chinese country, when a Chinese President is elected, it is alright. I understand these feelings but we need to face up to the reality of our multi-racial context. Under the current system of contested national elections for President, we may not have a non-Chinese President for a long time. If so, this will weaken the sense of national identity among minorities, and affect our unity. This is serious for it concerns our social cohesion, our multiracial society, and our future. 

It is important that we have a Malay, Indian, or other race as President from time to time. The President as Head of State is the unifying symbol for all Singaporeans, and must be able to unite all Singaporeans.

Our former President, Mr Nathan is a shining example of this. Mr Nathan is Indian, but as President, he looked after the interests of all Singaporeans. He proactively reached out to all races and got to know them well.

I hope the Chinese community will support the constitutional changes we may propose so that if we have a good minority Presidential candidate, he can become the President, and represent all Singaporeans.

Conclusion

At the heart of the three issues I discussed tonight is our unity. On the economy: we want every Singaporean to share the fruits of our economic progress. That is why we need our businesses to transform, prosper and provide good jobs for our workers. On our livelihoods: we have strengthened our social safety nets for workers and their families, so no one is left behind. On strengthening our multi-racial society: we must refine our political system so that it represents all races, and everyone can participate and be proud Singaporeans. Then we will be strong and more united, even as we face threats and challenges.

This is why we must continue to uphold the multi-racial ideal. To realise our pledge: "Regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality".

Let us be the pioneers of our generation. Let us be bold to overcome our challenges. Let us build for the next generation. Seize the opportunities before us and create a better and brighter future for all.

Thank you.