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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A rare protest in Singapore against new population plan


On February 16, a rare protest of about 3,000 people took place in Singapore. They were protesting government plans to increase the population of the city state.
Protesters worry that a government plan that would raise the current population from 5.3 million to a high as 6.9 million by 2030 will make already strained public services worse and also push up the cost of living.
Singapore has an image of political stability and efficient governance but also is known for attempts by the long-ruling People's Action Party to try to stifle opposition. The party has ruled since 1959. There are also strict regulations on public protests. The main organizer of the protest, Gilbert Goh, said the protest is meant to show the public's displeasure with the population plan that was endorsed by the parliament on February 8 :"They want to tell the government, please reconsider this policy. The turnout is a testimony that this policy is flawed and unpopular on the ground."
The government plan calls for bolstering infrastructure and social programs to serve the more than one million new residents. By 2030 non-foreigners would form between 3.6 and 3.8 million somewhat more than half the entire population. Despite some opposition in parliament the plan was approved by a wide majority.
Singapore has a falling birthrate and an aging population. The Prime Minister Lee Loong said in parliament:"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 aging people,"Loong also claimed that 6.9 million was not a target but a figure to be used to plan infrastructure development and social programs. The present birth rate in Singapore is below the replacement value of two babies per mother. In 2010, the World Bank estimated Singapore's fertility rate to be just 1.2 births per woman one of the lowest birth rates in the world.
Singapore attracts many immigrant workers from other Asian neighbours such as China and Indonesia who work as maids and construction workers. At the same time it attracts foreign high-income earners who are attracted by Singapore's political stability and high standard of living. However, this influx of people has caused public transport to be overcrowded and property prices to go extremely high. The result is resentment against foreigners.
Samantha Chia, one of the rally speakers, said :"Immigrants come at such a fast pace that they're not able to assimilate. It's unfair for them as well and a lose-lose situation."Singapore is touted as a beacon of capitalist development and prosperity but critics complain that the government has pursued growth at any cost.
Vincent Wijeysingha, a university lecturer and a member of an opposition party said:
"We want the government to put the vast resources that are at their disposal at the service of us, the people. Because we are not machines and our neighborhoods are not factories, and our island is not a hotel."
A native Singaporean Hayatt Shah is one among many who have left Singapore because of the skyrocketing cost of living. He has moved to Japan where he also pays a high price for accommodation but not as high he claims as in Singapore. Shah said:"I refuse to pay such a high price to live in a box that I have a lease on for 99 years. It's crazy that property prices here in Saitama [in Japan] are more affordable than properties in Singapore."Shah is a musician and English instructor but found it more and more difficult to maintain his accustomed lifestyle in Singapore, where he was born and lived all his life. He claimed that he did not feel at home in Singapore any longer.
Singapore boasts that it grew from a small island nation to a rich country with a booming economy, that is sustained by foreign investment and migrant workers. Many think that the increasing problems Singapore faces will erode support for the ruling party and perhaps eventually lead to its defeat.


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