Parliament endorses population White Paper by 77 votes to 13

[Correcting the identity of the MP who abstained from Chen Show Mao to NMP Eugene Tan]

After a week-long heated debate, Parliament voted on Friday to endorse the population White Paper by 77 votes to 13, with one abstention.

Close to 6pm, Madam Speaker of Parliament Haalimah Yaacob called the House to a vote.

WP leader Low Thia Kiang stunned those in attendance by standing up to ask the Speaker for a division to the motion, effectively meaning the House could not decide to pass the paper by a verbal vote. The House doors were then locked and the assembly took to an electronic vote.  

The nine Workers' Party MPs and NCMPs, Lina Chiam, along with Nominated Members of Parliament Janice Koh, Faizah Jamal and Laurence Lien all voted against the motion, while 77 voted in favour.

NMP Eugene Tan abstained from voting and later told Yahoo! Singapore that he initially planned to oppose the motion but decided to take a "leap of faith" after listening to PM Lee's parliament address.

"I now have even higher expectations -- the government must not fail... I felt that the government was meeting me halfway, and for me (his vote to abstain) is a statement that I will keep an open mind."

Before the vote was held, PM Lee Hsien Loong had made an impassioned, emotional 90-minute plea that was broadcast live on national television, seeking to reassure Singaporeans that they remained "at the heart of all we do".

Saying he expects the total population in Singapore in 2030 to be "significantly below" the 6.9 million figure projected in the White Paper on Population last week, he urged Singaporeans to see beyond the rhetoric of the past week and understand that "we are all in this together".

"So what will the total population in Singapore be?" asked PM Lee at one point.

"In my view in 2030, I think 6 million will not be enough to meet Singaporeans' needs as our population ages because of this problem of the baby boomers and bulge of ageing people," he said in a live televised address in Malay, Mandarin and finally English.

"But I believe the total population in 2030 should be significantly below 6.9 million and beyond 2030, in the very long-term, it should not increase beyond that," he said.

PM Lee added that to project the population beyond 2020 was "uncertain" and "for future generations to decide" and that the 6.9 million figure that has drawn widespread criticism "had been taken out of context."

He said the paper, more than being about numbers and the economy was to "secure the future of this generation and future generations of Singaporeans".

Recognising that many were concerned that the population in 2030 would only consist of 55% of core Singaporeans, he said, "We will track and control so we will not be overwhelmed by the sheer flood of foreigners".

In conclusion, PM Lee said Singapore would have to face tough choices and trade-offs in the years ahead but said "We are all in this together, we have to go beyond the rhetoric and if we make the right choices our future is bright."

At one point, PM Lee was also seen choking up as he talked about the importance of retaining a "Singapore core" of people who have families and homes here and who were willing to defend the nation because "we feel as one" and "share sorrows" together.

Finally, he reassured Singaporeans and said "You are at the heart of all of our policies. You are the reason why my key men and I entered politics… and we want Singapore to do well so Singaporeans can do well" before concluding that he supported the amended motion.

The paper, which was published last week, sparked heated debate among Singaporeans both online and offline over the government’s projection that the city-state's population by 2030 could hit nearly 7 million.

It also said the country would have to continue to accept more immigrants, albeit at a slower pace than before, to sustain the country’s economic growth and offset the country’s low total fertility rate and ageing population.

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