Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence

Singapore marks 50th anniversary of its independence with military parade, celebrations and fireworks amid many looming challenges

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Singapore has held nationwide celebrations to mark its 50th anniversary of independence on Sunday, and the extraordinary economic success in a region struggling with poverty and political instability.

The day is an occasion of national pride in the city-state and this year's theme for the National Day Parade (NDP) announced by the government as "Majulah Singapura," meaning "forward Singapore" in Bahasa Malaysia.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in celebrations this year, which is billed as the country's biggest ever, with fighter jets screamed through the sky, Singaporeans reciting the national pledge and singing the national anthem.

Millions of others have watched the military parade and fireworks on television, joining the celebration from their living rooms.

It is also the second nationwide gathering of Singaporeans after the tiny nation mourned the death of first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had led Singapore into independence, in late March.

"At 50 years, as we stand at a high base camp, we look back and marvel at how how far we have come. We are grateful to those who made it happen," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's son, said in a special message.

"It's only 50 years for a small nation like us, so we have achieved so much. It's a year that Singaporeans will want to remember forever," a student, Yang Jie Ling, told Reuters.

70-years-old William Nathan described the anniversary as a "milestone."

"Coming from an older generation that has seen Singapore through the early years of independence, I know it took hard work by our leaders to get here," he told AP.

Singapore, an island with a population of 5.5 million people, became a republic in 1965 following the ejection from the Federation of Malaya's amid social unrest. The former British colony has transformed into a global economic hub in 50 years, but human rights activists say censorship and social controls have accompanied the rapid development.

The country's founding leaders were criticized for crashing political dissent. Opposition figures often were taken to court under the controversial defamation laws used to silence critics until they were bankrupt. Bankrupts are banned from contesting elections in Singapore.

Most of the media outlets are controlled by government-linked companies, and the country is listed 153rd out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders' 2015 World Press Freedom Index, below Gambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Singapore, one of the most expensive cities in the world, is also one of the safest, according to the Economist’s Safe Index 2015. The only major crime troubling the country is drug trafficking, which the country is battling with tough anti-drug laws and capital punishments.

The government, which is led by the People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in power for more than 50 years, is expected to call for general elections in September.

Discontent over issues such as widening wealth gap, affects of low birth rate, skyrocketing property prices and an influx of foreign workers are the main challenges for the ruling party, which suffered its worst election results in 2011.

TRTWorld and agencies