It was a shock felt across the nation, inside ITE College Central and out, as Singaporeans saw Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stumble on stage midway through his speech. PM Lee returned later to complete his speech with self-deprecating humour, but for everyone watching the Rally, it was a tense, anxious wait for news on his health.
PM Lee stumbles on stage but completes speech with vigour
A collective gasp filled the auditorium at ITE College Central yesterday night, as nearly 1,500 people witnessed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sway midway through his National Day Rally speech.
He was giving his third speech of the night in English when he stopped speaking suddenly for a few seconds before swaying towards his right. He was seen trembling and grabbing the podium for support.
Immediately, about five people, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng, rushed on stage to help.
Members of the audience were shocked. Many rose from their seats out of concern.
PM Lee, 64, was seen waving to the audience before he walked off stage with some help.
The Rally was suspended after the incident, which happened around 9.20pm, and the stage curtains were drawn.
The audience was then ushered out of the auditorium and invited to enjoy the reception.
But the mood was sombre. Many stood gathered in groups, clearly worried about PM Lee's condition.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being helped by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu told The New Paper she was worried and shocked. She had no inkling that PM Lee was unwell before the incident.
"Everyone is concerned and I've received many messages and calls asking about him. I've even got messages from abroad, so news has travelled very fast," she said.
She added that PM Lee has had a heavy schedule the last few weeks, having recently returned from the US and with National Day celebrations having just passed.
"A 1½-hour speech like he gave today also needs hours and nights of preparation, so he's had a heavy schedule," she added.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told the media that PM Lee was all right after the "little blip" where he felt faint during his speech.
"He's been standing for a long time. He's been working extremely hard, so he's resting now and he'll like to finish off the speech. So don't worry too much," he said.
"...He's perfectly normal, just taking a rest now, I wouldn't worry too much. These things happen in life but he's strong enough to carry on."
The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) also said in a statement that the medical team attending to PM Lee had assessed that his condition was not serious.
The PMO later added that he was feeling unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration, and that his heart is fine and he did not have a stroke.
PM Lee returned to the stage to finish his Rally speech at about 10.40pm to a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong returns to finish his National Day Rally speech. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES
MP Alex Yam told reporters after the Rally that Mr Lee was on his way to Singapore General Hospital for a check-up.
Fellow MP Chia Shi-Lu confirmed on Facebook that Mr Lee was having a precautionary check-up.
Well-wishers and encouragement from other ministers also poured in for PM Lee online.
In a post on Facebook, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said: "After he encouraged Singaporeans to refuse to give up and keep on trying at the National Day Rally, PM had a brief fainting spell. 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."
In a Facebook post, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing commended PM Lee's "tenacity and determination to carry on delivering the speech despite taking ill", adding that it touched and inspired everyone.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat also said in a Facebook post that he felt "a surge of joy" after seeing PM Lee return to finish his speech.
Mr Heng had suffered a stroke in May during a cabinet meeting and was discharged from hospital in June.
Mr Heng, who was watching the Rally from home, added: "He looked very well, full of colour and spirit, just like his usual self. I hope his full check-up after the Rally will find that everything is okay, and I hope PM will take some rest.
"He has been checking up on me in the last few weeks, advising me to take care after my stroke.
"My sincerest hope is that he will also be kind to himself when it comes to his health."
...S'poreans show they care
PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES
Disbelief. Fear. Relief.
After the roller coaster ride of emotions among Singaporeans watching the live telecast of the National Day Rally, there was one clear response: Care.
Take care, they said in various ways on various social media platforms. Take care and be well.
But first there was fear for the PM's health, as the camera had panned to the audience immediately after it showed him stumble and left audiences at home puzzled.
Housewife Lilian Wong, 39, who was watching the live stream, said: "His voice was suddenly cut off and all I heard were gasps from the audience.
"Then, online, everyone started saying he has collapsed.
"I was really worried for him, especially since I didn't know what's going on. There was also speculation that he had suffered a stroke."
FLURRY OF CONCERN
Soon after the rally was suspended at about 9.20pm, a flurry of concern and well wishes came pouring in on social media.
Twitter user JazzyJaz wrote: "Hope nothing serious happens to PM Lee, almost had a heart attack seeing him collapse on stage during his speech."
A sombre mood permeated the 1,500-strong audience at the ITE College Central auditorium for the next 80 minutes.
All that changed at 10.40pm when PM Lee emerged on the stage with a smile and a wave.
Netizens lauded PM Lee for insisting on finishing his speech and for peppering the last 16 minutes of his speech with humour.
Facebook user Joyce Lee wrote: "What a good speech. Excellent spirit despite falling ill, and insisting to finish the speech. Probably the best speech from LHL. Get well soon."
Another Facebook user Johannes Tjendro wrote: "Thanks, PM Lee, for giving us a lesson on commitment.
"I pray that your wish be granted and you be given the health to lead this country to fulfil your wishes."
Designer Sarah Salim, 29, who was in the audience at ITE College Central told The New Paper: "I was seated quite (close to the) front. When I saw him take his handkerchief out to wipe his forehead, I sensed that he must have been a bit tired.
"When his speech started to slur, I realised something must be wrong.
"That's when someone rushed to the stage to grab hold of him."
Ms Sarah , who also stood up and cheered when Mr Lee returned to the stage, said her worries for him were replaced by admiration.
"I didn't really know how to react at first," she said. "I was just hoping that he would be fine.
"When there was the update that he was going to continue, I thought, 'Wow, it must be difficult for him.'"
Ms Sarah added: "It's courageous of him. He could have rested but he decided to continue with good spirit.
"He has a never-say-die attitude that's very admirable.
"(Two hours on), I'm still in disbelief that it happened."
I would like to cover two things in my speech which I think are important and which I should say tonight. One to do with leadership succession, and I think what happened (tonight) makes it even more important that I talk about it now.
- PM Lee highlighting leadership succession as a key point after returning to the stage after his stumble.
Everyone is concerned and I've received many messages and calls asking about him. I've even got messages from abroad, so news has travelled out very fast.
- Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu
He looked very well, full of colour and spirit, just like his usual self. I hope his full check-up after the NDR will find that everything is okay, and I hope PM will take some rest.
- Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who suffered a stroke in May and was watching the rally speech at home
It's courageous of him. He could have rested but he decided to continue with good spirit.
- Audience member Sarah Salim
What a good speech. Excellent spirit despite falling ill, and insisting to finish the speech. Probably the best speech from LHL. Get well soon.
- Facebook user Joyce Lee