The floating platform at Marina Bay was a sea of red and white with the odd umbrella popping up here and there. The television commentators were breathless with upbeat excitement, the police force performing elaborate drills to the accompaniment of LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem (they didn’t shuffle).
Our politicians file out on to the stands, waving and smiling at the spectators. For once, the all-white of the People’s Action Party was not to be seen, nor the few spots of light blue of the Worker’s Party. It was a tiny sign of progress, and yet there wasn’t much of a reaction from the people. Neither were there particularly loud cheers when our Cabinet Ministers and Prime Minister emerged.
But when Lee Kuan Yew appeared and took his seat, the roar from the crowd was unmistakeable. The Twitter hashtag, #NDP2012, went into overdrive. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for.
The few days before the National Day Parade saw a rumour taking root in Singapore: that Lee, our first Prime Minister, and a man often credited as the Founding Father of Modern Singapore, had passed away. The rumour was apparently born on Twitter, but spread so quickly that soon people who had never checked into the social network had heard about it. There were reports of uncles, grandparents, friends calling each other to ask, “Hey, is LKY dead?”
It wasn’t completely impossible; Lee is 88 years old this year, and no one lives forever. The implications, of course, were huge. For so long Singapore’s success had been attributed to this one man. (Whether he deserved such credit or not is often in contention, of course, and an important topic of discussion for all Singaporeans.) What would Singapore be like without our most famous politician? Would anything change? And if they changed, would they change for the better or the worse? Exactly how over-the-top would the mainstream media go with their coverage? How would we move on?
All the speculation was put to rest when Lee attended the parade, but feelings were mixed. There was relief, joy, surprise, disappointment, ambivalence… you name it. Love him or hate him, the possibility of Lee no longer being on the scene was a big thing to contemplate. If I felt relief at seeing him still alive (and more or less well), it was probably because I was glad not to have to sort through my feelings for this man we’ve been taught to admire, respect and fear.
We’ve probably not seen the end of such rumours. In fact, they might crop up with increasing frequency as Lee gets older. It seems strange, even sad, to think of a nation so anxious over the life or death of one man, his every look and move analysed for sign of illness or discomfort. And so as the National Day Parade wore on, I kept an eye out for Lee Kuan Yew on my television screen, and wondered how we would all react the day the rumours turn out to be true.