An estimated crowd of 4,000 people gathered at the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park on Saturday afternoon to protest against the Population White Paper endorsed by Parliament last week.
Organised by transitioning.org, a support site for the unemployed, the nearly four-hour protest saw people of all age ranges and races turn up in the light drizzle, with umbrellas and some with home-made, colourful placards and posters. Many also came with their young children in tow.
A total of 12 speakers, including former NTUC chief Tan Kin Lian, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, SDP's Vincent Wijeysingha and NSP's Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss spoke at the event, mainly hitting out at the 6.9 million population figure mentioned in the White Paper.
Each speaker was given 10 minutes to address the crowd.
Jee Say, a former high-flying civil servant, asked if there was a need to convert the migrant population in Singapore to be new citizens.
He also said, to the swelling crowd, that if half the population in 2030 were foreigners, “in the event of a crisis, (this) other non-Singaporean half will pull in a different direction.”
Ravi Philemon from opposition party NSP asked the crowd if bringing in an average of 900,000 to 1 million foreigners every decade was an acceptable number, to which the crowd responded with a thunderous “no”.
He then tabled the notion that the Paper dilutes the Singapore core for an allegedly relentless economic pursuit.
“The economy is not everything. The economy has to be for the people and not the people for the economy,” he added.
“The White Paper revealed two things, one, that the government does not seem to understand what it means to be an ordinary Singaporean and, two, that it does not seem to care,” said another speaker, Wijeysingha.
“Singaporeans are and must be the first and last object of policy”, he said.
The peaceful protest was marked by poignant moments when the crowd sang "Count On Me, Singapore" at the midway mark, and also at the end when the National Pledge was lustily recited in unison.
Organiser Gilbert Goh told Yahoo! Singapore he was pleased with the turnout. Calling the protest "history-making", he said he initially only expected 200 to show.
"This protest event is meant for Singaporeans to come here in a peaceful manner to show their displeasure at the 6.9 million population target," he said.
"We also wanted to show Singaporeans that there's a place for you to come to legitimately protest against any policy that you have against the government. You don't have to sit behind Facebook and complain. You can show up in unity, in person, to complain," he added.
Goh also apologised after a two-year-old blog post by him that was overtly xenophobic and anti-foreigner in nature was re-posted on Twitter a day before the event.
“Unfortunately, what we write always comes back to haunt us. We need to move on. This event is not about xenophobia, it’s more about the 6.9 million figure. But people are offended, so I apologise," he said.
"I’m human, I make mistakes. I wrote it two years ago. Since then I have learnt to be a bit more accepting. They’re here to stay. They’re going to be the majority of the population in 2030, and Singaporeans the minority. We probably have to accept this fact, probably even embrace them.”
Singaporeans who were present also said they'd showed up to make their voices heard.
“The bottom line is saying 'no' to the 6.9 million, saying 'no' to the White Paper," said Kenneth Koh, a director in his 50s.
"No, because the people’s representative no longer has the people’s support. This is not a protest. The people want a referendum. The people want their rights back. They don’t want to give the government a free passport,” he said.
Others said they were curious and came down for the event after finding out about it on Facebook.
"A lot of people are not happy and it’s not every day that they show their unhappiness. I just came to have a look and to soak up the atmosphere," said student Jenny Wang, 21.
Last week, 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.
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