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At 50, Singapore celebrates success amid challenges

A couple sitting in front of the number 50, which represents the number of years since Singapore gained independence, in the financial district where celebrations for the nation’s 50th year of independence have already started in Singapore. Singapore’s 50th anniversary yesterday commemorated its leap from a poor colonial port to a wealthy metropolis, but leaders are bracing themselves for an uncertain future as resentment continues to grow over political restrictions, an influx of foreigners and high cost of living. 			           (AP PHOTO/Wong Maye-E)

A couple sitting in front of the number 50, which represents the number of years since Singapore gained independence, in the financial district where celebrations for the nation’s 50th year of independence have already started in Singapore. Singapore’s 50th anniversary yesterday commemorated its leap from a poor colonial port to a wealthy metropolis, but leaders are bracing themselves for an uncertain future as resentment continues to grow over political restrictions, an influx of foreigners and high cost of living. (AP PHOTO/Wong Maye-E)

SINGAPORE threw a big party Sunday for its 50th anniversary of independence and unrivaled economic success in a region struggling with poverty and political instability, even as the city-state began feeling the pinch of a midlife crisis.

As fighter jets screamed through the sky and nationalist songs blared, leaders made speeches and people took advantage of free rides on trains and buses. While marveling at the island’s leap from a poor colonial port to a wealthy metropolis, Singaporeans are also grappling with a growing resentment over political restrictions, an influx of foreign labor and a rising cost of living.

“This is a milestone. Coming from an older generation that has seen Singapore through the early years of independence, I know it took hard work by our leaders to get here,” said William Nathan, 70.

The weekend of celebrations culminated yesterday with a military parade and a fireworks display. The sense of unity and pride in Singapore’s achievements was reinforced with a tribute video dedicated to its founder and longest-serving leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March at age 91, after running a virtually one-party state.

To Lee and his cohort of leaders, setting Singapore on the path to economic success meant putting in place tough policies to try to harmonise a racial mix of majority Chinese and minority Malays and Indians.

Lee, who was prime minister for more than three decades, had no tolerance for political dissent. Opposition figures were either defeated in elections or taken to court on defamation charges until they were bankrupt. The country’s laws prohibit bankrupts from contesting elections.

His son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is now steering Singapore with similar restrictions, and is facing a general election expected to be held September 12. The ruling People’s Action Party, which holds 80 of 87 parliamentary seats, suffered its worst results in 2011 elections.

Most of the mainstream media are controlled by government-linked companies, and the few independent news websites that exist are wary of strict defamation laws that government leaders have often used to silence critics.

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