SINGAPORE: The Republic’s National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 21) was temporarily suspended after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was taken ill, but the Singaporean leader returned just over an hour later to conclude his speech.
An initial statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said Mr Lee was being attended to by a medical team, who had assessed that his condition was not serious. An hour later an updated statement read: “PM was feeling unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration. His heart is fine and he did not have a stroke.”
Mr Lee resumed his speech shortly after to a standing ovation from the audience. “I gave everybody a scare,” he said with a smile. “The last time I did this was on a parade square at SAFTI; I fainted.”
“I’ve never had so many doctors look at me at once. I think I’m alright but I’m going to have a full checkup after this. Before that, I’d like to finish up my speech,” said Mr Lee.
Talking about Singapore’s leadership succession, he said: “After what happened, I think it’s even more important that we talk about it now.”
“Heng Swee Keat gave us a bad scare, much worse than what I gave you just now,” said Mr Lee, referring to the Finance Minister who suffered a stroke recently. Mr Lee then lauded the Singapore Civil Defence Force team who attended to Mr Heng: “I invited them here as guests, and they came to treat me just now.”
Mr Lee was an hour into his English National Day Rally speech when the interruption happened. He was helped off the stage by Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen, who was first up on stage, and other Cabinet Ministers.
Later, in an announcement made over the PA system to guests waiting at the reception, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that Mr Lee had asked him to convey the message that he wanted to return to greet guests and complete his speech later the same night.
In a live interview with Channel NewsAsia during the break in proceedings, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam added that Mr Lee has had a gruelling schedule recently, and was “just feeling faint” after standing for a prolonged period of time. “I wouldn’t worry too much. This was a little blip,” said Mr Tharman.
In a Facebook post shortly after Mr Lee delivered his speech, Dr Ng, who is a cancer surgeon by training, noted that the Prime Minister had had a “brief fainting spell”.
“After he encouraged Singaporeans to refuse to give up and keep on trying at National Day Rally, PM had a brief fainting spell,” Dr Ng wrote. “Not serious, similar to what soldiers get from standing on the parade square too long.
“After he recovered, PM insisted on finishing his speech and did it with panache and vigour. True leadership by example.
“Still, I’m glad that PM will go through a full medical check to be doubly sure.”
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean wrote in a Facebook post: “Let’s all wish PM Lee Hsien Loong good health, and … some well-deserved rest.”
Fellow Deputy Prime Minister Tharman said PM Lee had “real mental strength”, noting that he eventually came back to a standing ovation, looking good, and ended his speech on an uplifting note on our future as Singaporeans”. He added: “Get a good rest, PM!”
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin too, noted Mr Lee’s insistence on finishing his speech: “Some asked that (PM Lee) not resume and (that he) should have gone straight to hospital. Perhaps. But I believe PM felt it important as our leader to finish what he set out to do and to also assure a nation.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing wrote: “PM’s tenacity and determination to carry on delivering the speech despite taking ill touched and inspired those of us in the audience and those watching at home.”
On her Facebook page, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob thanked everyone for their care, concern and support for PM Lee. She said: “It was one real scary moment for all of us.”