SINGAPORE — Singapore has experienced mixed fortunes as it hurtled through the age of disruption in the 2010s.
On the one hand, it enjoyed consistent economic stability and celebrated its 50th anniversary with style. On the other hand, it endured the pains of globalisation, the death of its founding prime minister and even a rare riot.
Yahoo News Singapore polled our users on what they think is the top Singapore news story of the past decade, and here are the results:
The 2010s brought into the light the challenges that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore face. The main source of contention was Section 377A of the Penal Code, a law enacted in the 1930s which criminalises sex between consenting adult men. Several challenges to repeal the law took place throughout the decade, but none had succeeded.
Nonetheless, it was in the past decade that the LGBT issues were openly discussed for the first time, and one of the most prominent platforms in support of the community was the Pink Dot SG movement. Since 2009, it has held an annual event at the Speaker’s Corner in Hong Lim Park to show support for inclusiveness and diversity, and has attracted around 25,000 people annually.
On a few occasions, the event has even attracted counter-campaigns by religious groups, such as FamFest as well as the Wear White campaign in 2014. There was even a threat of violence in 2016 by a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot In Singapore”, who was eventually arrested and fined.
There were two presidential elections held in the 2010s; the first was a tough tussle among four candidates, the second was a controversial walkover.
In 2011, a few months after the general election, Singaporeans went to the polls again to decide their next president, after then-incumbent S R Nathan decided not to run for a third term. Four candidates contested, coincidentally all with the surname of Tan – Tony Tan, Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian – and there were lively rallies as well as televised debates among the quartet.
Polling results showed that former deputy prime minister Tony Tan won by a hair’s breadth over former People’s Action Party (PAP) member of parliament Tan Cheng Bock, with 35.20 per cent of the votes to 34.85. Tan Cheng Bock’s narrow defeat also established him as a key government opponent in the ensuing years.
He was to have been in contention again for the 2017 presidential election. However in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong changed the eligibility criteria of the elected presidency, and the 2017 election was the first to be reserved for a particular racial group – in this case, the Malays.
Tan tried unsuccessfully to challenge the constitution change, and could not contest the election. On Nomination Day, four out of five candidates was declared ineligible, resulting in a controversial, uncontested win for former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob.
Singapore pulled out all the stops in 2015 to celebrate its 50th year of independence, after a contentious separation from Malaysia in 1965. All year long, there was a plethora of community events to commemorate the occasion. It culminated in a four-day long weekend after then-President Tony Tan declared 7 August, a Friday, as a public holiday in addition to the 9 and 10 National Day holidays.
There were some criticisms over the superficiality of the celebrations, as well as calls for a more introspective examination of what it means to be a Singaporean. Nonetheless, the goodwill from the SG50 celebrations carried over to the September general election, where the ruling PAP stormed to a resounding 69.9 per cent margin of victory and reclaimed three parliamentary seats from opposition parties.
The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train network, when first opened for service in 1987, had been chugging along without much disruptions in the 1990s and the 2000s. That all changed in the 2010s, when major disruptions in 2011, 2015 and 2017 caused much frustration among daily commuters, and exposed the poor maintenance regime by the MRT operators.
The 2011 disruptions – twice along the North-South Line in December – prompted a Committee of Inquiry which found the maintenance regime to be “grossly inadequate”. Then-SMRT chief executive officer Saw Phaik Hwa resigned following the incidents.
However, the worst disruption occurred in 2015, when a major power trip caused both the North-South and East-West Lines to shut down, affecting more than 410,000 passengers. In 2017, a poorly maintained float and pump system at Bishan station caused a tunnel flood from a torrential rainstorm, resulting in another massive disruption.
All these disruptions hugely affected the public’s confidence in the MRT network, and scepticism lingers even though SMRT has revamped its maintenance and renewal systems.
Founded in 1989 by Kong Hee, the City Harvest Church (CHC) grew to become one of the biggest congregations in Singapore with about 16,000 followers in 2017. Kong was a charismatic leader, while his wife and co-founder Sun Ho was also a prominent pop singer.
In 2012, Kong and five other church members were arrested for alleged misuse of church funds. What ensued was the highest-profile court hearing of the decade, as Singaporeans found out how Kong and the members misused nearly $50 million of the church’s funds to finance Ho's secular music career. It was the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore.
In 2015, all six accused were found guilty of all criminal breach of trust charges, and were jailed between seven months (former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan) and three years and six months (Kong). It was a spectacular fall from prominence for Kong, and while CHC members maintained their support for the jailed members, the Singapore public grew more cynical over the intentions of evangelical groups that had sprouted across the island.
On 12 June 2018, Singapore was the focus of the entire world as, for the first time in history, leaders of North Korea and the United States met. The Republic was chosen for the summit meeting as it was one of the few countries to have diplomatic relations with both the US and North Korea.
The momentous occasion occurred at the Capella Resort in Sentosa, where Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump eventually signed a joint statement, agreeing to new peaceful relations, the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, recovery of soldiers' remains, and follow-up negotiations between high-level officials.
It was undoubtedly the biggest global political event to be held in Singapore this past decade, and while the Singapore public had to endure road blockades and traffic jams, they also caught glimpses of the two prominent leaders as they were escorted by huge convoys and security every step of their way.
The biggest public spat over family matters in the last decade involved none other than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two younger siblings, Wei Ling and Hsien Yang.
At the centre of their feud was the fate of the house at 38 Oxley Road, the former residence of their late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had wanted the house to be demolished after his death. Disagreements among the siblings were made public in 2017, when Wei Ling and Hsien Yang issued a joint statement alleging that they feel threatened by their brother’s pursuit of a personal agenda over the Oxley Road residence. PM Lee immediately denied the accusations.
The public spat had stunned the Singapore public, with PM Lee’s reputation taking a hit after a two-day parliamentary debate on his alleged abuse of power. The feud eventually also involved Hsien Yang’s wife Lee Suet Fern and son Li Shengwu. Going into 2020, there are no signs that the ongoing row among members of the most prominent family in Singapore would be resolved soon.
Since its independence in 1965, Singapore has had just one major riot prior to 2013 – the 1969 race riots which saw four dead and 80 wounded.
On the night of 8 December 2013, a fatal accident at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road in Little India sparked off a riot by some 300 migrant labourers, who attacked the bus involved as well as emergency vehicles. The riot last about two hours, as the police’s Special Operation Force was activated to quell the unrest.
A total of 62 casualties – including 39 policemen and four civil defence and auxiliary officers – were reported, and police eventually charged 33 people, most of them migrant workers from India and Bangladesh. Some were jailed and most were repatriated.
The riot raised debate on the issues of overcrowding, ethnic tensions within Singapore, rising income inequality, the country's heavy reliance on the large pool of foreign labour, and the working conditions of migrant workers.
The aftermath of the riot saw the restriction of sales and consumption of liquors in both Little India and Geylang, the construction of a bus terminal along Hampshire Road, and more lamp posts and surveillance cameras installed in the riot area.
For years, the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) – where political parties need to form groups between four and six candidates to contest in general elections – was seen as a bane for opposition parties, which struggled to find enough credible candidates to put up a strong challenge against the ruling party, PAP.
That all changed in the 2011 general election. Sensing the public discontent on an increasingly overcrowded Singapore and the influx of foreign migrants, the Workers’ Party (WP) put up a strong team of candidates to contest the Aljunied GRC, a group that included its chairperson Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, who left his Hougang stronghold to enter the fray.
The party held rallies to huge, approving crowds during the campaigning period, and PAP were sufficiently compelled to make a rare apology to the electorate, with PM Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging that some of the government’s policies had adverse “side effects”.
When the election results were announced, it was a bombshell – for the first time, an opposition party had won a GRC, with Workers’ Party clinching Aljunied GRC with 54.7 per cent of the votes, ousting key government office-holders such as George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua and Zainal Abidin Rasheed. PAP, while returning to power, garnered 60.1 per cent of the total votes, its lowest since Singapore’s independence.
Low hailed his team’s win as a political landmark in modern Singapore, and voters had "accepted the WP as a rational, responsible and respected party”. PM Lee conceded that voters wanted to “see more opposition voices in Parliament to check the PAP government”. Indeed, Singapore’s political landscape was altered significantly with WP’s stunning win.
He may have stepped down as prime minister way back in 1990, but Lee Kuan Yew continued to have a major presence in Singapore in his subsequent years. He released memoirs detailing his political and personal life as well as the governing philosophies he espoused, and continued to be influential in government policies.
When he appeared wan and frail during National Day Parades in the early years of the 2010s, Singaporeans grew increasingly concerned over his health. On 23 March 2015, after being hospitalised for more than a month with severe pneumonia, Lee passed away at Singapore General Hospital, aged 91.
What followed was an outpouring of grief by Singaporeans on an unprecedented scale. After a private wake was held at Sri Temasek at the Istana, Lee’s body was conveyed by gun carriage to Parliament House on 25 March, where it lay in state for the public to pay their last respects. A staggering 1.2 million Singaporeans eventually did, forming long queues from the Parliament House to the Padang.
Meanwhile, 18 community tribute sites were set up islandwide during the mourning period, to allow more citizens and residents to pay tribute. A special parliamentary session was also held on 26 March for Members of Parliament to pay their respects.
Lee’s state funeral was held on 29 March. Torrential rain failed to deter a crowd of about 100,000 who lined up the streets from Parliament House to the National University of Singapore University Cultural Centre, where a state funeral service was held.
It was a measure of Lee’s immense influence that his death revived discussions on his political achievements, and evoked patriotism among Singaporeans who admired his tenacity and vision in leading Singapore from the Third World into the First World. It was also seen as a key factor in PAP’s subsequent resounding victory in the 2015 general election, strengthening the government’s mandate on policy-making.
It is, by far, the biggest Singapore news story of the past decade as polled by Yahoo News Singapore users, more than four years after Lee’s death.