13 August 2004

The National Day Speech by a Prime Minister

In lieu of a State of the Union address, Singapore has its annual National Day Speech and a National Day Rally Speech, usually given by its PM.

(Factoid alert: I'm told that mostly Communist countries celebrate National Days, whereas most of the free world (even in Africa) celebrate Independence Days. Can someone verify or falsify this claim?)

I find a most interesting and incomprehensible issue about these two speeches: that the Prime Minister (or a member of the cabinet) delivers them in English, Mandarin, Malay, and Indian Tamil. The 4 speeches are not identical to each other; instead, the main speech in English consists of mostly economic and political content whereas the rest of the shorter speeches have to do with emotional content.

On one hand, clear-headed and disinterested analysis of the State of the Nation (Mostly disinterested until he calls for able men to join politics - read PAP - to serve the nation); on the other, a babying and pandering of the various official ethnic communities.

Like most features of the most unique state of Singapore, the normal people have taken it as granted, as common sense - certainly not unquestionable, but if pressed, no questions are raised about it...

In Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf asks why men have a fetish for uniforms, and another fetish for sticking medals up their uniforms to signify some status. Why not women, sprucing their gowns with sprigs of broomsticks? Or children, marking their shirts with symbolic blobs of ink to signify "scholar"? How ridiculous and arbitrary! But yet, so is the idea of sticking medals and pins on a uniform.

In the grand Virginian tradition, let me deconstruct the National Day speeches and rallies. Why shouldn't the PM divide his speech differently, like having separate speeches for

a. atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.
b. The lower classes, the middle classes and the elites ("People call you the elite but I call you my base!")
c. civil servants, Temasek-linked servants, and everyone else in the private sector.
d. The Singapore-born, the naturalised, and the foreign talents (of course no mention about the quitters).
e. members of civil societies, private companies, the Churches, and the think-tanks
f. Men, women, and children

and so on? All these are equally effective as demarcators of the population, some even more so than just 'race' or 'ethnicity'.

What is it about race that makes it THE paramount divider of Singapore society, that the PM must have separate segments for his National day rally and speech?


Why is the PM so intent on dividing Singapore society on the principle of race (instead of say, class)?

Many people would point out that it's such a no-brainer: Singapore's National Day speech and rally are conducted in the 4 major languages as a nod to racial harmony. So here's a poser: what in the name of racial harmony allows the Chinese speech to be twice as long as the Malay speech, which is in turn usually twice as long as the speech in Tamil?

Perhaps the Malay community has lesser concerns than the Chinese?
Or smaller racial communities = less talk time on tv?

That's supposed to help racial harmony, how?

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