Thousands of Singaporeans demonstrated on Saturday against a government plan to increase the city-state’s population through immigration, saying the policy will erode national identity and worsen quality of life.
Protesters gathered at Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park at the edge of the city’s financial district in the rain, many dressed in black and carrying signs opposing the plan. Lawmakers from Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (李顯龍) ruling party last week endorsed a white paper that outlined proposals including allowing more foreigners through 2030 to boost the workforce.
The rally increases pressure on the government to slow an influx of immigrants that has been blamed for infrastructure strains, record-high housing and transport costs, and competition for jobs.
Singapore’s population has jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004 to 5.3 million and may reach 6.9 million by 2030, based on the proposal. That has stoked social tensions and public discontent that is weakening support for Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP).
“A 6.9 million population won’t be good for Singaporeans,” said David Tan, a 48-year-old who owns a garment textile business and attended the protest. “We have 5.3 million people and we can hardly cope. Even if the government can take care of infrastructure, it won’t help much in terms of quality of living.”
Organizers estimated as many as 5,000 people joined the demonstration at the 0.94 hectare park that served as a venue for political rallies in the 1950s and 1960s. They sang patriotic songs and held signs saying “we want to be heard, not herded,” and “waiting for 2016,” when the next general election is due.
The Workers’ Party, the only opposition group with elected members in parliament, said on its Web site the plan to spur economic growth through immigration is not sustainable and the proposal “will further dilute the Singaporean core and weaken our national identity.”
There may be as many as 6 million people in Singapore by 2020, and the government will boost infrastructure to accommodate a further increase in the following decade, according to the white paper published last month.
The government will take in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens and grant about 30,000 permanent-resident permits annually, according to the paper titled A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore.
“The size of the crowd shows people are angry,” said Tan Jee Say (陳如斯), a candidate in Singapore’s 2011 presidential election, who gave a speech at the protest. “It will send a signal to the government and I hope it will react in a sensible way and see that people are concerned.”
Protest organizer Gilbert Goh, who is part of an opposition party, said another demonstration may be held to protest the government’s population plans.
“Five-thousand people here is good testimony that this policy is flawed and unpopular on the ground,” Goh, who runs a non-governmental organization to help unemployed citizens, told reporters on Saturday.
In a city with 3.3 million citizens and 2 million foreigners, complaints about overseas workers depriving locals of jobs and driving up home prices helped opposition parties win record support in the 2011 general election. Lee is under pressure to placate voters without disrupting the entry of talent and labor that helped forge Southeast Asia’s only advanced economy.
Since the 2011 polls, Lee’s party has lost two by-elections. The government “paid a political price” with the infrastructure strains as a result of a bigger population, the prime minister said last month.
In other developments, Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), Singapore’s first prime minister, has been discharged from hospital after suffering from a condition linked to a prolonged irregular heartbeat.
The elder Lee, 89, was sent to the Singapore General Hospital after the suspected transient ischemic attack, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.
The office said Lee Kuan Yew is resting at home.