By Massita Ahmad
The ‘National Day Rally’ (NDR) speech delivered by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Sunday will forever be etched in my mind for a different reason.
Everything started well with the prime minister delivering the speech in three languages, first in Malay, then in Mandarin and finally in English.
As a Malaysian and with Malay being the mother tongue, I was really impressed with Lee’s command of the language.
There was no accent and he was eloquent enough!
There was once he mispronounced a word and he took the trouble to correct the pronunciation. This indicated he knew what he was saying and was not just reading out from the text.
Lee started his address as early as 6.40 p.m in Malay and continued in Mandarin up to 7.30 p.m. I was following the address through ‘live streaming’ in YouTube.
The prime minister then paused for half and hour before continuing with his speech in English that was slated to start at 8.00 p.m. and end at 10.00 p.m.
As a correspondent from across the Causeway, I have to listen and write on anything bilateral mentioned by Lee. And he did and I started typing a story while listening to his speech.
However, about 9.40 p.m. I could hardly believe what I was seeing in the screen.
Lee suddenly stopped speaking. He appeared as if he was in a daze. He was trembling and he slowly started slanting to the left. It immediately crossed my mind that this man is about to collapse.
By then Lee’s cabinet ministers and officials on the stage who realised something was not right rushed towards him
and helped him off the stage.
I could not believe I was seeing anxious moments involving a prime minister unraveling right in front of the screen and watched by millions all over the world.
However, looking back, right from the start my gut feelings were telling me that Lee was not at the best of health that night. I did see him looking tired and he stopped twice to have a drink before he continued with the marathon
What happened on that night set me on overdrive. I immediately contacted the headquarters in Kuala Lumpur to inform them of what had happened to Lee and was waiting to see further developments before filing a story on Lee.
Everyone was anxious on what was going on with Lee. By then the social media was already abuzz on what had happened. The anxiety only ended when Lee returned to the stage about an hour later looking refreshed. He received a standing ovation from the 1,500 attendees at the ITE College Central where the NDR event
Looking at the shocking development, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) immediately came up with statements after statements explaining what had happened and that Lee had recovered.
“PM Lee was feeling unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration. His heart is fine and he did not have a stroke,” said PMO in one of the statements that night.
Lee, who reappeared on stage at 10.40 p.m., concluded his speech in 15 minutes doing away with some parts of the text including of the Elected President subject matter.
However, I had already written on the subject matter that he presented in his speech in Malay.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said; “Last night, PM Lee Hsien Loong reminded us that we should ask God for the ability to ‘count our blessings”.
“And the incident last night when PM Lee had a vasovagal syncope episode emphasised this in a most pointed and poignant way.
“My initial thought was “Oh no, not again”. And I am so glad it wasn’t,” he wrote in his Facebook posting.
“When we rushed up on stage, we found PM Lee fully conscious but having classic symptoms and signs – sweatiness, low heart rate and low blood pressure.
“The initial light headedness resolved within minutes, and I knew he just wanted to get back on stage to complete his speech. Whilst the initial tests were being done, he was busy re-editing his speech!”
And then he went back on stage and completed his speech. His words took on added significance.
“We then went to Singapore General Hospital for more tests, the results which were all normal before calling it a night at around 1.30 am,” said Dr Vivian who is an ophthalmologist by training.
I’m confident that like Singaporeans, Malaysians too want to see Lee get back on his feet and continue fostering good ties between both nations.
While most Singaporeans went to bed after learning their prime minister was fine, Lee was yet to call it a day. At about 2.00 a.m., he took the opportunity to reply to his counterpart across the Causeway Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on
Najib earlier had twitted; “Heard that you’re not feeling well. I hope you’re all right. Get well soon”.
“Thanks for your good wishes. My doctors tell me I should be OK,” Lee replied shortly. – Bernama
(Note: Bernama’s correspondent in Singapore Massita Ahmad shares her take on the happenings across the Causeway.)