SINGAPORE – While physical rallies are out for the ongoing general election, it does not mean an end to the lunchtime rally.
Known also as the Fullerton rally, the rousing speeches delivered at the square near the Singapore General Post Office, now The Fullerton Hotel, often attracted thousands of office workers.
For GE2020, the People’s Action Party (PAP) announced on Sunday that it will hold a lunchtime e-rally on Facebook and YouTube at 12pm on Monday (July 6).
“Every election, rain or shine, the PAP holds a lunchtime rally at Fullerton. It is the highlight of the campaign. Pandemic or no, we will again hold a Fullerton rally this time, but it will be online,” said PM Lee in a Facebook post.
The site has seen some of the biggest election rallies over the decades, both by the PAP and its opponents.
Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke at the first lunchtime rally in 1959, the year Singapore became a fully internal self-governing state. It was a way to reach out directly to the English-educated office crowd, bypassing the English-language media which Singapore’s first prime minister felt portrayed the PAP as “extremists and wild men”.
The original site was at Fullerton Square.
During the 1991 General Election, Fullerton Square was not designated a rally site as the area had been landscaped with a small park and circular road.
Since 1996, the rally in Fullerton has been held at the UOB Plaza promenade in Boat Quay, a short walk from its original location.
Here’s a look at the highlights of past lunchtime rallies:
2015 GENERAL ELECTION
In September 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong echoed the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s words: “This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine!”
PM Lee, who was speaking six months after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died on March 23, had made the point that a vote for a PAP candidate was a vote for him and his team.
The words were first uttered in 1980 by the founding prime minister who told the crowd that whoever governs Singapore must have iron in him or give it up.
He said: “This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”
2011 GENERAL ELECTION
PM Lee surprised some by apologising for mistakes the Government had made.
He said this five minutes into his 36-minute speech at the lunchtime rally.
His message: The PAP Government had made mistakes and was sorry, and would learn from them.
The Straits Times’ Opinion Editor Chua Mui Hoong wrote then that it was a speech “like no other speech from a PAP minister I have heard in 20 years covering Singapore politics”.
“It was remarkable for its – there is no other word for it – humility,” she said.
2006 GENERAL ELECTION
It was PM Lee’s first Fullerton rally as prime minister, having assumed the role in 2004 from Mr Goh Chok Tong.
It was also Singapore’s first lunchtime rally in nine years.
In his hour-long speech, PM Lee tackled the view among some Singaporeans who believed more opposition in Parliament would result in the PAP government doing a better job.
He also called on Singaporeans to work together to realise their vision of an inclusive society with opportunities for all.
His speech touched on the controversy surrounding then Workers’ Party member James Gomez, who was originally part of the slate contesting Aljunied GRC.
Mr Gomez had alleged that the Elections Department mislaid a form he submitted on Nomination Day, which disqualified the team.
But closed-circuit television (CCTV) recording showed him leaving without submitting the form.
Mr Gomez then apologised and said he did not submit the form as he had been distracted.
2001 GENERAL ELECTION
In 2001, the Fullerton rally was not held because of security concerns after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
1997 GENERAL ELECTION
The focus during this general election was on Cheng San GRC, which was contested by the PAP and WP.
The WP slate included new candidate Tang Liang Hong, a man the PAP labelled a dangerous Chinese chauvinist.
Two days before Polling Day, then-Prime Minister Goh said during the PAP’s lunchtime rally that he was so determined to stop Mr Tang from entering Parliament that he was personally entering the battle for Cheng San GRC.
Mr Goh said: “I throw my hat into the ring. I’m now stepping into the Cheng San area.
“It’s a contest between me and him. I am upping the stakes.” Mr Goh spent almost his whole 45-minute speech on the topic of Mr Tang’s views.
A day later, at the WP’s lunchtime rally, Mr Tang appealed to Cheng San voters not to “frustrate the aspiration and the wish of the people of Singapore” who wanted more opposition representation in Parliament.
1991 GENERAL ELECTION
The Fullerton Square site was not used for lunchtime rallies this year.
1988 GENERAL ELECTION
At Fullerton Square’s final rally on Sept 1, Mr Lee Kuan Yew told listeners that the 1988 General Election was different.
“Because this time, you are casting your vote not in judgment over my performance – because I did not make the decisions.
“You are casting your vote to give your verdict on the performance of Goh Chok Tong and his younger colleagues.”
“Cheer him on,” he told the voters. Mr Lee had earlier indicated that it would be his last election as Prime Minister.
At the same rally, Mr Goh, who was then First Deputy Prime Minister, said that he was the first choice among his peers to succeed Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
The others considered were Dr Tony Tan, Mr S. Dhanabalan and Mr Ong Teng Cheong.
1984 GENERAL ELECTION
In previous elections, security was tight around the Fullerton rallies and people were not allowed to stand by their windows in the nearby buildings to observe the candidates as they spoke.
But in an 80-minute speech, Mr Lee declared: “Today, I think I can take a chance because there is a team in place that can continue.”
He was alluding to the fact that the second generation leaders would be stepping up to govern the country.
Attempts had been made earlier for alternative sites in the city area for lunchtime rallies, as more buildings had sprung up around Fullerton Square since 1980, reducing the standing space.
The area was retained as a rally site in early December, just days before the election on Dec 22, as a search for alternative venues proved unfruitful.
The 1984 election was also PM Lee Hsien Loong’s first election, which he won at the age of 32. It was also his first time speaking at a lunchtime rally at Fullerton Square.
1980 GENERAL ELECTION
The issue of succession was a hot topic. Speaking during a drizzle, Mr Lee Kuan Yew endorsed the second generation leaders and urged Singaporeans to help him test them.
“There is only one thing they are not learning as fast, and that is how to enthuse you, how to put a bit of fire into you.
“And they will learn in eight years,” said Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
1976 GENERAL ELECTION
Members of opposition parties had claimed that the Government was killing Chinese education, prompting a warning from Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
“You play Chinese chauvinism, I smack you, because it can lead to bloodshed.”
The opposition also drew the crowds at Fullerton Square.
At a WP rally, party chief J. B. Jeyaretnam spoke of a “conspiracy of silence” around detentions and the treatment of national servicemen.
He rallied the audience to shout, “We want to be heard” and to “make it loud enough for Mr Lee to hear”, he urged them.
1972 GENERAL ELECTION
In 1972, Mr Lee explained that foreign powers were interested in Singapore and some were financing opposition candidates and journalists.
A strong vote would show them that money could not buy Singapore, he said.
1963 STATE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
During the 1963 State Assembly elections, it was at Fullerton Square that Mr Lee explained the reasons for not proscribing the Barisan Sosialis party as recommended by the Internal Security Council.
He wanted to fight them openly in elections, “blow for blow, argument for more argument, move by move”.
1959 LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
During the 1959 Legislative Assembly elections, Mr Lee said at Fullerton Square that the PAP would serve the people’s interests, not those of British firms.
The PAP could be tough on them if “they try to be funny”, he said.
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