SINGAPORE Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s usually stoic demeanour cracked on Sunday as he addressed the city-state during its annual National Day Rally.
The trigger? It happened as Lee unveiled the “Merdeka Generation Package”, a special medical assistance initiative for those born in the 1950s (baby boomers) or those in the “Merdeka generation”. Merdeka means “independence” in English.
As he discussed the initiative, Lee detailed the struggles Singaporeans faced during the fight for independence and their efforts towards nation-building when the country was finally liberated. He broke down into tears as he touched on the challenges faces by the Merdeka Generation who saw their parents, the pioneer generation, toil for the country.
“There are 500,000 (Singaporeans) from the Merdeka Generation and I’m proud to be one of them,” Lee said during the televised speech.
“Having lived through the battles and upheavals of the Merdeka struggle and seen how their parents have scraped and slogged for them… they understood instinctively what was at stake.”
Singapore gained independence from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965, but the bid that paved way for the wealthy city-state began the decade before when the country’s People’s Action Party set up a government.
Lee said this generation, who are mostly in their sixties, had accepted hardships, made sacrifices, answered the call of duty, and worked with their leaders to build a better future.
“The men were among the earliest batches called up for national service… many, especially the girls didn’t complete their education. They came out to work early to support their family and younger siblings.
“Some joined the workforce amid uncertainty in the economy and unemployment and when the British forces withdrew from Singapore, all started working when wages were still low.”
The prime minister said together with the pioneer generation, the Merdeka Generation contributed to building Singapore and “making its independence a success”.
However, Lee noted that the Merdeka Generation were better off than their preceding generation before as they benefitted from a decade of economic growth and had more access to education.
“The Merdeka generation earned more over their lifetimes and accumulated more CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings because, in the eighties, wages increased sharply.”
With the generation’s contribution in mind, Lee said the Merdeka Generation Package would help meet their healthcare expenses, but the benefits would not be as large as those received by the pioneer generation who had “much less advantage” compared to their children.
Lee did not mention a timeline for the plan but said the details of the package would be revealed next year.