So what did PM Lee talk about in his National Day Rally Malay speech?

By August 19, 2019Current

TL;DR –  In Singapore’s plural society, Islam is practised in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness, and in this process, Singapore Malays have developed their own unique identity.

Have you noticed that there are two occasions every year where we will have our Prime Minister (PM) addressing the nation?

One is during the May Day Rally on 1st May where traditionally, PM will be invited to the Rally organized by the Labour Movement to address the workers. In recent years, there’s even live telecast. Since it’s May Day, PM’s speech during this time usually centres around the topics of economy, jobs, support for workers. This is an important address to take note since this is where we can get an idea about the future of jobs and what support system there is for us, workers.

But oh, this year’s May Day was a little special though. Although PM Lee showed up as usual, it was Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat who gave the speech. I guess this is all part of the leadership transition.

National Day Rally 2019!

Now the second occasion for PM to address the nation is the National Day Rally (NDR), which usually happens on the third Sunday of Singapore’s birthday month, August.

This is also an important address to sit up and listen because this is usually where PM shares his concerns about the challenges we face as a country, plans to tackle these challenges,  and this is also where he shares the more aspirational stuff like what major projects there will be, etc.

Some of you may remember that it was at the National Day Rally in 2013 when PM Lee first announced plans for Jewel and Changi’s Terminal 5.

And now, Jewel is all completed, shining and sparkling like a real jewel and work has also started at T5.

Yes, like what PM Lee said in his NDR 2019 speech, “What we talk about, we will deliver.”

PM Lee spoke in three languages

For as long as I can remember, PM Lee has always done his NDR speeches in three languages – Malay, Mandarin and English.

What’s significantly different this year was how the speech content for each language was quite different, there are hardly any overlaps. PM Lee himself had highlighted this and urged everyone to go read up on all three speeches.

With hindsight since I now know what he had addressed in Malay and Mandarin, it’s clear to me that he has specific and distinctively different messages for the Malay and Chinese communities. If you ask me, I think he has tackled pretty sensitive topics in both languages and it’s a purposeful effort to give the two communities some signals.

Here’s a fly-through of his Malay speech.

PM’s Malay speech touched on the Malay Identity in Singapore

Although it wasn’t a long speech, just under 20 minutes, PM Lee managed to cover a lot of ground.

He focused on how Singapore Malays have created a distinct Singapore Malay Identity vis-à-vis other Malays in the region. He also talked about how Singaporean Muslims practice Islam in a multicultural Singapore.

PM Lee brought up how Minister Masagos recently described  the three Cs that define the Singapore Malay identity:

  • Citizenry
  • Competency
  • Character

PM Lee focused on the latter two in his NDR speech.


For Competency, there has been a lot of enhancements due to the Malay community’s emphasis on education. PM cited quite a few success cases and he also shared that we’ve seen a Malay President’s Scholar this year too.

NUS graduates from the Malay community (Source: MCI)

On the Government’s part, PM Lee has emphasized in both his Malay and English speeches that the Government is determined to make our education system as accessible as possible, enabling every young person to succeed, regardless of his or her background.

So the Government will ensure that pre-school is more affordable for the middle income too, and MOE will soon announce expanded pathways for ITE students to upgrade themselves. That’s not all. The Government will also make sure that the fees for our polytechnics and universities are as affordable as possible, even for the poorest families.

“We want every Singaporean son and daughter to have the opportunity to receive a good education, and start well in life, regardless of family circumstances.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Little kids in pre-school (Source: MCI)


For Character, PM touched on how the community has formed and built such through the way they practise their religion in our multiracial context in Singapore.

Undoubtedly one pillar of the Malay community is religion. In his NDR 2019 speech, PM Lee said that Islam is one of the great religions of the world, that it’s a religion of peace. With almost 2 billio followers in many parts of the world, different Muslim communities would inevitably practise Islam in different ways, depending on their own histories and traditions.

But in Singapore’s plural society, Islam is practised in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness.

PM Lee said that in this process, Singapore Malays have developed their own unique identity, and you have become distinct from other Malays in the region, and from Muslims elsewhere in the world.

In Singapore’s plural society, Islam is practised in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness (Source: MCI)

Summing it all up

PM Lee wrapped up his Malay speech like this,

“You can all be proud of your achievements. Over several centuries, you have built a strong community and enriched our history. The Malay community has prospered with the nation. Now, Malays have their own distinct identity.”

“At the same time, you have integrated with other communities, and formed solid instincts as sons and daughters of Singapore.”

“The Bicentennial is an opportunity for all of us to mark the contributions of the Malay community and celebrate your achievements. I am confident you will continue to progress year after year. The Government will walk with you every step of the way, and support your aspirations, so you can continue to be a Community of Success.”

  • PM  Lee’s Malay speech (transcript) here
  • PM Lee’s Malay speech English subtitles (video) here

(Featured image via)


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Qiqi Wong

Author Qiqi Wong

Insert pretentious crap about myself here.

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