[UPDATE on Saturday, 7 June at 7:15pm: Adding more details, quotes]
Thousands of Singaporeans -- some observers put the number at 3,000 -- attended the “Return Our CPF” protest held at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, calling for greater transparency and flexibility in the CPF system.
Organised by blogger and activist Han Hui Hui, with the support of volunteers, the event was held amid the ongoing suit between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and blogger Roy Ngerng.
By 5pm, Yahoo Singapore estimated that some 2,000 people dotted the green in the area surrounding the stage, with more hiding from the sun in the surrounding shaded footpaths, field areas and even a nearby overhead bridge.
Han claimed at the close of the protest at about 6:30pm that the crowd size had grown to 6,000 -- a figure that pits attendance at this protest as higher than the 4,000 turnout at last year's Population White Paper protest. Observers who spoke to Yahoo Singapore, however, peg the attendance at closer to 3,000 people.
"Singaporeans, there are 6,000 people here today," said 22-year-old Han, addressing the crowd from the stage. Adding in Mandarin that she is organising another CPF-related protest next month, Han asked those present to bring more friends with them, to take the numbers up to 10,000.
"We need to find out where all our money has gone. The government must be accountable for our hard-earned money!" she cried in Mandarin when she spoke earlier, to cheers from the crowd.
The protest's speaker line-up included 2011 presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian and ex-Singapore Democratic Party member Vincent Wijeysingha, as well as Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, statistician Leong Sze Hian and Ngerng himself. The latter was there with human rights lawyer M Ravi.
Supporters present at the protest surrounded Ngerng throughout the event, taking pictures with him and encouraging him, with reference to his ongoing court case. The 33-year-old healthcare programme co-ordinator read his speech from a script, receiving cheers from the crowd throughout.
"What we want is for the interest (earned on investments) of our money to be returned to Singaporeans," said Ngerng. "What we want is transparency and accountability... The CPF is our money. We the citizens of Singapore are the owners of our money, and of our country. It is our right to decide what to do with our CPF money," he added, to cheers of support from the crowd.
Tan summarised the demands that he felt the people should make, saying, "Pay us better interest on our CPF... We need to have better people manage our CPF and garner higher returns." He also called for the ability to opt out of the Minimum Sum requirement and from CPF Life, proposing that citizens be allowed to withdraw up to a third of their savings at age 55, and the balance two-thirds when they are 65.
Meanwhile, Wijeysingha, who is now a citizen activist focusing on issues relating to poverty in Singapore, said the CPF system is in some ways relatable to the government's relationship with its citizens.
Acknowledging that not everyone might be in direct agreement with Ngerng, Wijeysingha said, nonetheless, "There is no one on this island who can claim not to be at least a little unsettled by the way in which our public finances are managed."
"Today is a new beginning, and we must take it like a new beginning," concluded Ngerng. "Today, Singaporeans will come together and chart a new journey, a new direction for our country and our future."
See more pictures from the protest:
With reporting by Jeanette Tan