Singaporeans rally against immigration

SINGAPORE - Thousands of Singaporeans demonstrated on Saturday against a government plan to increase the island’s population through immigration.

  • Published: 16/02/2013 at 07:10 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Allowing more immigrants to enter the city-state will erode the national identity and threaten livelihoods, they said.

Protesters gathered at Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park at the edge of the city's financial district on a rainy afternoon, many dressed in black and carrying signs opposing the plan.

Lawmakers from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ruling party last week endorsed a white paper that outlined proposals including allowing more foreigners through 2030 to expand the workforce.

Singapore has onme of the world's lowest birthrates and successive government efforts to encourage marriage and childbearing, more recently through generous "baby bonuses", have met with little success.

A protester makes his view clear at a rally held to call for a slowdown in immigration in Singapore. AFP

Most young Singaporeans complain that the cost of living is high, job and career pressure is intense, and having children is just out of the question financially for them.

Saturday's rally increases pressure on the government to slow an influx of immigrants that has been blamed for infrastructure strains, record-high housing and transport costs and competition for jobs.

Singapore’s population has jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004 to 5.3 million, stoking social tensions and public discontent that is weakening support for Lee’s People’s Action Party.

"The size of the crowd shows people are angry," said Tan Jee Say, a candidate in Singapore’s 2011 presidential election, who joined the protest.

"It will send a signal to the government and I hope it will react in a sensible way and see that people are concerned. The government should not push the white paper down Singaporeans' throats."

Organisers estimated that more than 3,000 people joined the demonstration at the 0.94-hectare park that served as a venue for political rallies in the 1950s and 1960s.

They sang patriotic songs. Some signs demanded a referendum on the white paper, while others said "we want to be heard, not herded", and "waiting for 2016", when the next general election is due.

Members of the opposition say the government’s policy to spur economic growth through immigration isn’t sustainable.

There may be as many as 6 million people in Singapore by 2020, and the government will boost infrastructure to accommodate a population of 6.9 million by 2030, according to the white paper that was published last month.

The government will take in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens and grant about 30,000 permanent-resident permits annually, according to the paper titled "A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore".

Protesters expressed unhappiness with the policy that could result in citizens, including new ones, making up only one of every two people on the island smaller in size than New York City by the end of the next decade should the population reach 6.9 million.

Singapore is the third-most expensive Asian city to live in and the sixth globally, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit ranking of 131 cities around the world published this month

"Instead of increasing the population of this country so quickly, maybe we should focus on those that have been left behind," said Sudhir Vadaketh, author of "Floating on a Malayan Breeze", a socio-economic narrative on Singapore and Malaysia.

"A lot of Singaporeans are feeling a great sense of loss of identity. With continued high immigration, I worry about that sense of identity will be diluted even more."

Demonstrations in Singapore are rare as the government imposes strict controls on assemblies and speeches, limiting outdoor protests to locations such as Speakers’ Corner.

Authorities say such laws help maintain social stability in a country that was wracked by communal violence between ethnic Malays and Chinese in the 1960s.

In a city with 3.3 million citizens and 2 million foreigners, complaints about overseas workers depriving locals of jobs and driving up home prices helped opposition parties win record support in the 2011 general election.

Lee is under pressure to placate voters without disrupting the entry of talent and labor that helped forge Southeast Asia’s only advanced economy.

Since the 2011 polls, Lee's party has lost two by- elections. The government "paid a political price" with the infrastructure strains as a result of a bigger population, the prime minister said last month.

About the author

Writer: Bloomberg News

Latest stories in this category