[UPDATED 6 October, 8am: Adding attendance figures by observers.]
Organisers estimated that Saturday's final protest against the Population White Paper, held at Hong Lim Park on a scorching hot afternoon, had attracted about 1,000 people.
This is the third time that Gilbert Goh of transition.org, a support site for the unemployed, has organised a White Paper protest. He was “slightly disappointed” at the turnout, which was a stark contrast to the first protest held in February, where 4,000 people showed up.
“I think we are a bit disunited. If you organise this in Hong Kong, you will probably get 50,000, in Malaysia maybe 100,000 and in Indonesia, 500,000, and we are not there yet. But I won’t give up,” Goh said, adding that it is difficult to organise such an event in Singapore.
The recent changes made to the foreign manpower policy could also be the reason for the diluted response, he told Yahoo Singapore.
However, observers on the ground, including an AFP reporter have estimated that the attendance at the protest was nearer to 500.
For the final installment, Goh invited a total of seven speakers of various ages, races and backgrounds to present their thoughts at the event which went on for close to four hours. Some of the speakers included The Online Citizen’s blogger Leong Sze Hian, healthcare executive and blogger Roy Yi Ling, architect Fatimah Akhtar and operations executive Alex Tan.
Many of them touched on the issue of foreigners in the country, saying that Singaporeans are actually blaming the government’s foreign worker policy instead of the foreigners themselves.
The only female speaker at the event, Akhtar, shared her experience of working in the Middle East for seven years. There, she said, the number of foreigners is five times more than the locals .
In the United Arab Emirates, she said, “There are absolutely no benefits for the foreigner. All are allowed to work, but they have to take care of themselves. And once they finish their contract, they go home."
Healthcare executive Roy Yi Ling, who received the loudest cheers, addressed why some people are hostile towards foreigners. He said, “We can’t do anything to the government. That’s why we turn to the foreigners… the result of the government policies.”
Singer Gilbert Louis entertained the crowd halfway through the event with songs like "Stand Up for Singapore” and John Lennon’s “Let it be”.
There was also a job fair at the park, set up by six employers who, according to Goh, have made efforts to prioritise Singaporeans when hiring new employees.
Chee Soon Juan together with members of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) were seen at the event around 6pm and Goh had invited Chee on stage where he said, “A word of caution to those who are going against government policy… attack the flaws of the policy not the people who are here to work.”
Organisers wrapped up the event with a question and answer session where about eight people from the crowd came up to ask questions and voice their thoughts.
In February, Parliament endorsed an amended motion to the White Paper on Population by 77 votes to 13.
The amended motion filed by Holland-Bukit Timah MP Liang Eng Hwa stated that the White Paper “supports maintaining a strong Singaporean core by encouraging more Singaporeans to get married and have children, supplemented by a calibrated pace of immigration to prevent the citizen population from shrinking.”
PM Lee, in an address before the motion was endorsed, stressed that the 6.9 million population figure had been taken out of context and that the Paper was not about any specific population size for beyond 2020, but rather that it was being used for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning.