Sunday, December 29, 2019

A decade to remember: 10 news events that shaped Singapore from 2010 to 2019

By Kenneth Cheng

29 December, 2019

For Singapore, the past decade has been by turns turbulent, mournful and jubilant.

The 2010s bore witness to a brazen show of public disorder when a riot erupted in Little India. To a nation grieving the death of its founding prime minister. To an awe-inspiring 50th birthday bash. To Singapore’s first Olympic gold. The list runs on.

Summing up the decade, sociologist Tan Ern Ser of the National University of Singapore said a watershed General Election in 2011 — which saw the country’s ruling party record its lowest share of the vote since independence — was the first major event of the decade that underlined Singaporeans’ unhappiness with an influx of foreigners, among other things.

The cost of living and widening social inequality were also uppermost on people’s minds over the decade. Digital disruption has also gathered speed, with the attendant challenges making it more urgent for Singaporeans to sharpen their skills to ride out the industrial transformation taking root here and globally, said Associate Professor Tan.

TODAY recaps the key events and developments in Singapore from 2010 to 2019:


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In a watershed election, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) registered its lowest vote share of 60.1 per cent since Singapore’s independence in 1965.

Although the party won 81 out of 87 seats and wrested the Potong Pasir ward from the Opposition, it lost Aljunied Group Representation Constituency to the Workers’ Party.

Its disappointing showing prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, PAP’s chief, to pledge that the party would do some “soul-searching”. PAP reversed its performance in the 2015 General Election, lifting its share of the vote to 69.9 per cent, the highest since 2001.

Read also: Lord of the butterfly Joseph Schooling feted like a king on return


The year-end train disruptions along the North-South MRT line were among the worst on record, disrupting the journeys of more than 200,000 people.

The first major breakdown on Dec 15 lasted five hours.

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The breakdowns on the MRT system caused major disruptions to the travelling public. TODAY file photo

Two days later, another trip-up dragged on for seven hours, leading to a public inquiry.

The embattled chief of rail operator SMRT, Ms Saw Phaik Hwa, resigned less than a month later. SMRT was fined S$2 million for its failures that caused the disruptions, which underlined shortcomings in SMRT’s maintenance and monitoring regime.


A subject of intense debate after its release in January 2013, a government white paper projected Singapore’s population would reach 5.8 to 6 million by 2020, and 6.5 to 6.9 million by 2030.

Government leaders were quick to point out that the upper bounds of the projections were for policymakers to carry out long-term planning, and the authorities hoped Singapore would not hit the 6.9 million estimate.

Still, the Population White Paper’s publication spiralled into a fierce debate, with citizens questioning whether Singapore could cope with the increase and opposition political parties pillorying the report.

It also led to protests. The first demonstration, in February 2013, drew nearly 2,000 people to Hong Lim Park.


On the evening of Dec 8, 2013, a riot started at the junction of Race Course Road and Hampshire Road in Little India after a private bus killed an Indian construction worker.

It escalated into the city-state’s worst instance of public disorder in more than four decades: About 400 people pelted police and rescue vehicles for two hours before the situation was brought under control. The melee damaged 23 emergency vehicles, including four that were set alight.

Fifty-four police, civil defence and private security officers were hurt.

The incident triggered a public inquiry that spanned a 24-day hearing, saw rioters jailed and caned, and led to tighter curbs on alcohol, a major factor that led to the violence.


On March 23, 2015, Singaporeans awoke to the news that their founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who shaped the country’s rise from fledgling island nation to one envied internationally for its economic progress, had died. He was 91.

His death, coming more than four months shy of the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, prompted tributes from near and far, an outpouring of grief among Singaporeans who queued in the thousands to say their goodbyes to the late statesman as he lay in state at Parliament House, and drew tens of thousands onto the streets to send Mr Lee on his last journey amid driving rain.

Tens of thousands lined the streets in heavy rain to send Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his final journey. TODAY file photo

Two years after Mr Lee died, a feud erupted between his children — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang — over the fate of their family home on Oxley Road.


Despite the anguish that seized the nation after Mr Lee’s death earlier in the year, Singapore’s 50th birthday bash rekindled a sense of hope and fervour for the future, as Singaporeans reminisced about their forefathers’ achievements in the last half a century.

Nearly 250,000 people thronged the party, which featured a 50-aircraft flypast — the biggest aerial display in town — and a Vintage Parade that culminated in a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 superjumbo dancing across the sky above Marina Bay.

Fireworks — at double the number the previous year — went off throughout the show, with the pyrotechnics scrawling the endearing term “SG50” across the sky after the national anthem resounded through the Padang.


Swimmer Joseph Schooling found his place in Singapore’s history books in August 2016 after he clinched Singapore’s first Olympic gold.

Mr Schooling, then 21, won the gold medal in the men’s 100m butterfly final after clocking an Olympic record of 50.39sec at the Rio de Janeiro Games, beating American great Michael Phelps, South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh who all finished in joint second at 51.14sec.

Swimmer Joseph Schooling became a national hero after bagging the nation's first Olympic gold medal. TODAY file photo

Before Mr Schooling’s Olympic feat, the top achievement by a Singaporean at the Olympics remained Tan Howe Liang’s weightlifting silver at the 1960 Rome Olympics and the women’s table tennis team’s silver at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


In September 2017, Madam Halimah Yacob became the first woman and first Malay in 47 years to be sworn in as Singapore’s president in a walkover that was widely criticised.

The Presidential Elections Committee had deemed two of her potential rivals ineligible.

The presidential election of that year was reserved for Malays in an effort to ensure multiracial representation after Parliament passed into law changes to the Elected Presidency scheme in 2016.

Many Singaporeans voiced their disappointment at the non-contest, with some airing their views on social media using the hashtag #NotMyPresident.

Two days after Madam Halimah took office, a silent protest against the presidential election drew hundreds to Hong Lim Park.


In November 2018, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was confirmed as the PAP’s first assistant secretary-general.

This opens the way for Mr Heng to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as secretary-general of the ruling party and prime minister if the PAP prevails at the next General Election due by April 2021.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, emerged as the potential successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. TODAY file photo

Doubts were cast over Mr Heng’s leadership prospects after he suffered a stroke in 2016 during a Cabinet meeting, but he defied the odds to make a “miraculous” recovery, in the words of a Cabinet colleague.

He was appointed Deputy Prime Minister on May 1, 2019, while retaining his finance portfolio.


An eye-watering S$100 billion is how much it will cost Singapore in the next 50 to 100 years to protect itself from rising sea levels, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong this year.

The sum will be spent mainly on coastal defences. Like other countries around the globe, Singapore is ratcheting up its fight against climate change.

Under the 2015 global Paris agreement, the city-state pledged to cut by 36 per cent — from 2005 levels — its greenhouse gases emitted per dollar of gross domestic product come 2030, with the aim of peaking around then.

[Note the "loophole". It's not reduce greenhouse gas emission by 36%. But greenhouse gases emitted per dollar of GDP.]

In 2016, Singapore unveiled a climate action plan outlining steps to reduce emissions by 2030. Emitters have, from this year, been taxed for every tonne of greenhouse gases — S$5 for a start — that they release into the air, sending a price signal to power stations and large emitters to reduce their carbon footprint.

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