The unveiling of a government Population White paper that mapped out its preparation for Singapore's population growth to 6.9 million (of which citizens would only form 55 per cent) by 2030 sent shockwaves across the country. It sparked a major protest involving 4,000 people at Hong Lim Park in February.
"The people want a referendum. The people want their rights back. They don’t want to give the government a free passport," said one of the attendees of the protest. This would unfold into two further outings later in the year, which faced significantly smaller turn-outs.
The paper detailed plans the government was making to prepare itself for a significantly larger population size, in terms of housing, transport and other infrastructure. Coming in the midst of the year-long National Conversation, in which citizens’ views were sought on national issues, the timing of the White Paper turned out to be a major public relations gaffe.
It triggered a passionate and lively week-long debate in Parliament on the document. Party affiliation mattered little as even ruling-party MPs like Tin Pei Ling and Inderjit Singh spoke up strongly against it. A section that classified "nursing" as a low-skilled occupation triggered an apology from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself.
Academics, economists and sociologists were left puzzled over the scholarship behind the paper's research, with some calling its trade-offs between population, workforce growth and economic dynamism "overly mechanistic, economically simplistic and astonishingly sociologically and politically naive".
The paper did get passed in Parliament eventually, with PM Lee declaring that Singapore's population will be "significantly below" the 6.9 million mark, and that above all, Singaporeans will be "at the heart of all we do".