In the weeks leading up to the death of Lee Kuan Yew, many Singaporeans were rooting for his recovery, hoping that the founding prime minister could be well enough to witness the city state's golden celebration. But fate and time were not on his side. He died in March, a few months shy of Singapore's 50th Independence Day next Sunday - August 9. His absence makes for not only a poignant jubilee, but also a bittersweet turning point for an unlikely country which has leapt from third world to first world status within a generation. The plucky nation is entering a new phase without its iconic leader, a coming of age amid a sense of loss. The celebrations, labelled SG50 for short, mirror this mix of ebullience and pensiveness. The ubiquitous iconic image for the party is a little red dot. First uttered by an Indonesian leader to insult Singapore, the phrase has now been embraced as an emblem of the jubilee. So little red dots are now painted on buses, plastered on buildings and pasted on all sorts of paraphernalia. Contests are even held for those spotted with a red dot on their cars and in their homes or offices. "We can see Singaporeans feeling upbeat about the SG50 celebrations and seeking to partake in them," notes political commentator and Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan. "In a way, the passing of Mr Lee has galvanised the nation by providing a poignant learning journey of how far Singapore has come in 50 years". For the authorities, almost nothing is left to chance in trumpeting Singapore's, and by extension the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) achievements. In typical Singapore fashion, a committee led by government ministers was set up to plan the year-long bash, which is likely to include more than 100 events. These range from reflective activities for Singaporeans to share about places close to their hearts to more carnival-like festivals such as barbecues in parks and mass zumba dances. It is not all top-down initiatives. The committee also called for ideas from Singaporeans on how to celebrate , culminating in more than 11,000 suggestions focused on food, heritage and pop culture, among others. If events are fleeting, there have been more permanent ways to capture the moment. A movie, 1965 , chronicling the country's history, was produced and a book that tells the Singapore story through the lives of 58 people has been published. A story for all Launching the book, SG50 steering committee chairman and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "As we celebrate our nation's golden jubilee, let us not forget that the Singapore story belongs to all of us." To spread the jubilee cheer, the authorities have been generous. It gave civil servants, around 82,000 of them, a one-off S$500 (HK$2,823) bonus, students were presented with a special 244-piece commemorative Lego set and every household is receiving a goodie bag of memorabilia. And in a rare gesture for a government stingy with national holidays - Singapore has only 11 a year compared to 17 in Hong Kong - it surprised residents with an extra public holiday to stretch the National Day weekend to four days, from next Thursday. Bookings for overseas trips reportedly spiked soon after the announcement, prompting the government to call on citizens not to travel during the long weekend. Parliament speaker Halimah Yacob advised: "It will be really sad if a quarter of Singapore goes overseas to celebrate." Entrepreneur Yang Xiuling, 38, for instance, is still undecided on whether to stay or leave. "I'm not that patriotic, so I really find all the frenzied flag waving and aircraft flying a bit uncomfortable. So to escape these four days would be bliss," she said. "But at the same time, I can't help but feel proud of how far we've come. And to be here in that historic moment would be special." There are plenty of private enterprises eager to tap the sentimentality of Singaporeans who want a little stardust from the SG50 glitter. Singapore belongs to the dissenters just as much as the businessmen PHILLIP JEYARETNAM, SG50 COMMITTEE CO-CHAIRMAN Hotels have special SG50 deals for residents, tourist island Sentosa is offering free entry and local food company Ayam Brand has launched limited-edition sardine can designs. Even McDonald's is cashing in. The fast-food chain will be selling the incredibly popular Hello Kitty collectibles - six plush toys dressed in Singaporean outfits ranging from a trishaw uncle to a durian lover. Singapore still has fears But amid the festivities and fun, the country's longstanding fear of its fragility as a nation has intensified. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of the late Lee Kuan Yew, admitted in a recent SG50 conference organised by state-run think tanks that the leaders were apprehensive. "We worry all the time. People say we are paranoid, which I suppose we are and we need to be," he said. "Because you are at a higher level, you expect to be at a higher level. You don't expect to go back to where you were in the 1960s. And yet, it is not natural that you stay at this place. "Is it to be expected that the population of 3.5 million citizens and maybe a million foreign workers will have the best airline in the world, the best airport in the world, one of the busiest ports in the world…and an education, health care and housing system which gives us a per capita GDP which is, at least by World Bank calculations … higher than America or Australia or Japan?" he asked. The fears are that these achievements could soon be harder and harder to uphold. Income inequality has been widening, economic growth has slowed and tensions are high between residents and an influx of foreigners. "I think we are doing okay, but there is also a lot to worry about," said market researcher Elaine Chow, 33. Some of the more pressing concerns, she adds, are how Singapore can continue to stay relevant globally while managing domestic pressures from a shrinking, greying population. The country's famed reputation for efficiency and reliability has also taken a severe beating with frequent breakdowns in its metro system and rising complaints of poor quality in its new public housing flats. When two major subway lines were disrupted during evening peak hours last month, it was an unfortunate blow to the triumphalism of SG50. It also cast a shadow over the ruling party's wish to translate the patriotic fervour of SG50 and perhaps even the sentimentality surrounding Lee Kuan Yew's passing into a handsome win in the general election, which many observers expect to be held as early as September. Few doubt that the PAP, holding 80 out of 87 seats in parliament (which will increase to 89), is determined to retain its dominance in the house and stanch the ascent of the biggest opposition group, the Workers' Party. But analyst Eugene Tan cautions: "Voters are increasingly desirous of a level election playing field. If the PAP is seen as seeking to capitalise on SG50 for its political advantage, voters may regard it unfavourably. "It is also a fallacy to assume that Singaporeans' positive sentiments over SG50 will automatically translate to votes for the PAP." A desire for greater plurality Indeed, the celebrations hint also of a desire among Singaporeans for greater plurality, a slow but inexorable shift from the one-party dominant state narrative and Lee Kuan Yew as the only visionary to map the way forward in the nation's future success. SG50 committee co-chairman Phillip Jeyaretnam, for example, was quick to point out that it is critical to engage the cynics in the celebrations. "Singapore belongs to everybody. It belongs to the cynics, the critics, the dissenters and the exiles just as much as it belongs to the businessmen or the people in government," says the lawyer and writer who is a son of the late prominent opposition MP, J.B. Jeyaretnam. "It won't be all rah-rah and 'how wonderful we are'. It will also look at what it means to be Singaporean, whether we're headed in the right direction or not. I think we've grown up and are mature enough for that to be part of our celebrations." Singaporeans such as photographer Zakaria Zainal, 30, did his bit to depart from the official story. His "Island Nation" project, put together with two other photographers, documents former residents of Singapore's southern islands, stretching as far back as the 1940s. "SG50 is a good time to reflect on our growth as a nation and to decide where we go from here. However, there is too much focus on the post-colonial narrative, which is advantageous to the incumbent government," says Zainal. "Singapore was a thriving, diverse city even before 1965. We aim to showcase that by highlighting the lives of islanders in the south and its existing communities." The clamour for alternative voices is expected to get its most trenchant airing in the forthcoming elections, which promise to highlight differences in contrast with SG50's efforts to unite. In the meantime, however, there is no debating how far the improbable nation has come. "I'm very thankful for Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his government for doing what was necessary to improve our lives," says retiree E.N. Chew, 75, who confesses that she was initially fearful when the PAP came to power as it had communist links. But fear eventually gave way to faith in the party. She says: "No one could have imagined that Singapore would turn out to be such a success."