By Cheong Wen Xuan
As we enter into 2019 and look back on the year that has just passed, it will probably be a shock to many to realise that 2018 was actually a pretty eventful, sensational and dramatic year for our little island. So to jump on the annual bandwagon of reflection and reminiscence, I have compiled 10 events that occurred in 2018 which thrilled, intrigued, enraged, and generally ~shook~ Singaporeans – from local politics and legal news, to international relations, and even sports and lifestyle.
The American movie, which was set in and shot almost entirely in Singapore, featured many familiar local faces and sights, and intrigued hordes of Singaporeans who swarmed the theatres, curious to see the glamorous and luxurious portrayal of our little island home through a Hollywood lens. The romantic comedy, based on the 2013 bestselling novel by Singaporean-born Kevin Kwan, topped the Singapore box office in its first week. The film stirred up mixed reactions from Singaporeans, some who warmly embraced it as somewhat of a local pride and joy, and some who criticised it for not being an accurate representation of local cultures, intricacies, and even accents.
2018 was a busy political year for Singapore, but topping the list has got to be the hosting of the historical summit. 12th June 2018 put Singapore in the history books when United States president Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a summit held at Singapore’s Capella Hotel on Sentosa island. All eyes were on Singapore during that time, and journalists from around the world flocked to the ground-breaking summit, which cost Singapore $20 million to host. The event even inspired a dress design donned by Singapore’s representative at the Miss Universe contest. Though widely criticised, the laughable but iconic design proved just how influential and defining the event was for Singaporeans in 2018.
Many big events this year revolved around our neighbour – the Malaysian general elections was a trending topic amongst Singaporeans, when Mohamad Mahathir’s victory put an end to Barisan Nasional’s political hegemony, defeating former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. However, what stole the limelight was an even more sensational turn of events regarding our neighbour. The political tensions from across the Causeway became more palpable than ever before when government vessels from Malaysia repeatedly encroached into Singapore’s territorial waters and refused to withdraw their vessels, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
To add oil to fire, tensions soared when issues regarding airspace were brought into the row, with Malaysia intending to reclaim its “delegated airspace” in southern Johor, which had been “delegated” to Singapore since 1974, as well as Malaysia’s protest of the publication of Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures for Seletar Airport, stating that its guidelines would affect the height and development of infrastructure in nearby Pasir Gudang. Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has labelled Malaysia’s actions as “blatant provocation[s]”.
2018 saw students rejoicing all over the nation, as they witnessed revolutionary changes in the education system, with the Ministry of Education (MOE) announcing the elimination of mid-year examinations for certain levels. The decision to remove grading aims to shift focus away from the myopic obsession with academic results, to alleviate the stress of students, and to make their learning process more enjoyable. There are currently already no examinations for Primary 1 and Primary 2 students, and over the next three years, MOE aims to scrap MYEs for Primary 3 and 5 and Secondary 1 and 3 students as well! This positively changes the way both students and educators approach learning and teaching respectively. This seems to be a foreshadowing of the scrapping of PSLE aggregate scores from 2021, to remove “unhealthy competition among our young children”, as Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said.
The popular supper haunt was embroiled in a mass food poisoning scandal, with 82 customers reportedly getting food poisoning, a whopping total of 47 hospitalisations, and even the death of 38-year-old SATS officer Fadli Salleh. The culprit behind the severe cases of food poisoning was suspected to be the Salmonella bacteria found in the belacan egg fried rice, sambal belacan, raw chicken samples, kangkong, and uncooked rice at the River Valley outlet. Even more horrifyingly, faecal bacteria were detected in samples of ready-to-eat food and on kitchen utensils. The River Valley outlet has been closed for good, while the other outlets continue operations.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was appointed the post of the first assistant secretary-general of the ruling People’s Action Party, a move that was viewed by Singaporeans as a quasi-coronation, as it seemed to indicate the PAP’s intention for Mr Heng to be groomed as the next Prime Minister. This will make him the most likely candidate to break the Lee monarchy (so to speak), bumping out Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was widely expected and thought of as the favourite to become the next PM.
On a lighter note, who can forget those five days that made national history during which Singaporeans decked themselves out in beanies, scarves, and even down jackets? From the 10th to 14th of Jan, daily temperatures dropped because of the monsoon season – falling to 22.8 deg C and even dipping as low as 21.2 deg C, which is the lowest recorded temperature in Singapore since 2016. The cold spell was also groundbreaking because it was the longest in the last 10 years.
The infamous section 377A of the Penal Code found its way into the spotlight and national debate again after the Indian Supreme Court abolished a similar law criminalising sex between consenting adult men, an archaic relic of conservative laws from the British colonial era. The nation was gripped by the increasingly heated debate, which mobilised many people to take a clear stance, and even saw the birth of a new hashtag – #ready4repeal. Opposing petitions by activists from both sides raced to collect more signatures. Religious groups condemned the liberal move and stood fast on their position against the repeal. Despite the intense debates, eventually no action was taken, and to the dismay, or triumph, of many citizens, the status quo was maintained.
The cyber attack on SingHealth’s patient database proved to be the worst cyber attack in Singapore’s history. From 27 June to 4 July, the personal data of 1.5 million patients, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several ministers, were stolen from SingHealth’s electronic medical records (EMR) system during an APT (advanced persistent threat) attack. The SingHealth computers were hacked into and infiltrated – which had catastrophic consequences as SingHealth is Singapore’s largest group of healthcare institutions, comprising of four hospitals, five national speciality centres, and eight polyclinics. The data was accessed and copied, but not tampered with.
Another case that sparked huge controversy and uproar from locals was Mindef’s rejection of Ben Davis’s National Service deferment request, when Davis was offered a deal to sign a two-year professional contract with Fulham FC, making him the first Singaporean to sign with an English Premier League (EPL) club. The 17-year-old was bound by his upcoming NS obligations as a Singaporean son, which led to his father encouraging his son “to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his career”, and Davis going ahead to sign with Fulham FC. His request for deferment was rejected by Mindef on the grounds that it was a matter of “personal interest” rather than serving as a national athlete representing Team Singapore, while “deferment from National Service is granted for exceptional sportsmen to represent our national interest and not their own career development”.
His family’s lack of commitment to a specific date during which Davis would come back to serve his NS also prompted Mindef’s decision. Only three athletes – Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen, and Maximilian Soh, have been granted deferment in the past 15 years. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen caustically accused Davis of having “no commitment to serve Singapore or our national interests”.