SINGAPORE – The swearing in ceremony for a new Cabinet at the Istana is traditionally attended by members of the establishment and invited guests from a cross-section of society.
With the country in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony was a far more quiet affair, split up over two locations for safe-distancing.
In the Istana’s State Room were President Halimah Yacob and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, along with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and half the Cabinet.
The others, including Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, took their oaths in Parliament House instead. Mr Heng and Mr Chan are the People Action Party’s first and second assistant secretary-generals respectively, and head the party’s fourth-generation leadership.
The two venues were linked by video, with political office-holders on both sides able to see each other. But their seats were spaced out at regular intervals, driving home the message of safe distancing. Invited guests, too, watched the proceedings from separate rooms in each building.
Also invited were PAP MPs past and present, and the Workers’ Party’s newly-elected MPs. PM Lee later posed for a selfie with WP chief Pritam Singh, whom he has designated Leader of the Opposition, after the event.
Like the PAP MPs, the WP MPs were split teamed too – Aljunied GRC MPs at the Istana, Sengkang GRC MPs and Hougang MP Dennis Tan at Parliament House.
The ceremonies of previous years welcomed guests of every stripe – from top civil servants to blue-collar workers, who would mingle with the newly sworn-in ministers on the Istana’s manicured lawns after the ceremony.
But this year’s guest list was far more pared down. It included MPs, former political office-holders, ambassadors from around the region, judges, permanent secretaries, and the chairmen of statutory boards. All of them, too, had to sit far apart in the interest of health and safety.
A mask adorned every face, from the camera crew filming the event to the President’s aides-de-camp.
Many wore the basic surgical variety, although some – like Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah – wore fashionable cloth creations that blended in seamlessly with their formal attire. Newly-minted MP Yip Hon Weng even had on a unique beige-coloured creation with a clear plastic panel in the front, showing off his beaming smile.
PM Lee was the first to be sworn in at the Istana, followed by DPM Heng and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean at Parliament House, and Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Istana.
Each took their oaths individually, led by CJ Menon. They were then presented with their instruments of appointment by President Halimah Yacob or, for those in Parliament House, Mr Eddie Teo, who chairs the Council of Presidential Advisers.
A total of 33 ministers and ministers of state took their oaths of office during the proceedings, which lasted a little over an hour.
After the formalities were over, it was time to snap photos and upload social media posts to commemorate the occasion.
Mr Heng posted a photo of the politicians and their spouses posing for a picture outside Parliament House, while Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin posted a rueful shot of himself adjusting the strap of his mask, which appeared to have snapped.
“Lesson learnt: Don’t fiddle with mask. Make friends with cameraman,” he wrote. “Always practice your knots.”