Man on the street turns out to air opposition to government plans on population
Driven by deep concerns over the issues of national identity and cost of living, a crowd of over 3000 Singaporeans turned out at Hong Lim Park in the afternoon of Saturday February 16th 2013 to be a part of a political rally.
The rally was organized by Mr. Gilbert Goh, a private citizen who runs transition.org, a website that acts as a support group for unemployed Singaporeans. The demonstration was organized to act as an outlet for Singaporeans to air their grievances over how their government pushed through its very unpopular white paper on Population about 2 weeks earlier.
The rally consisted of 12 speakers that featured a keynote line up consisting of a who's who of Singaporean opposition political fixtures such as Mr. Tan Jee Say, Mr. Tan Kin Lian, Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha and Ms. Jeanette Chong Aruldoss. The rally stretched over the course of 3 hours, starting from 4pm and ended with the national anthem being sang in a spirit of Singaporean solidarity and patriotism at its conclusion at 7pm.
Thoughts by attendees
The scene of the rally was a hotbed of discussion by attendees on what they equated to issues of national importance. Many spoke amongst themselves about how they felt that the government has lost touch with the man on the street. Especially in light of the quagmire that developed around the handling of national infrastructural issues with stagflation, healthcare, housing and transportation being the biggest sources of public exasperation.
The overall rhetoric of the demonstration remained focused on giving a voice to Singaporean concerns that they would be crowded out by mass immigration, despite the cloud of racial profiling leveled against an article that Mr. Gilbert Goh had posted on his site almost one year ago. There were many participants who felt that the cause of Singapore's future superseded any petty charges of xenophobia.
"How I feel as a concerned citizen is that we are not anti foreigners. We are definitely not xenophobic. It's just a point we want to make, to let people know how we feel. In the bottom of our heart, we know that they (the government) will still pass the white paper. But somehow we still want to make our voices heard. " said a civil servant who only wished to be known as Jeff when quizzed on why he was attending the rally.
Mr. Robert Yeo, a 66 year old retiree, shared his opinion why the government's proposed a population of 6.9 million by 2030 is not to Singaporeans' benefit: "In my opinion Singapore's population should be around 3 million. Anymore will worsen our standard of living, we'll be jostling for places everyday."
When asked if he thought that the rally's speaker line up was too political in its representation, Mr. Yeo also had this to add: "I can't speak for them but in my opinion I think they are concerned Singaporeans."
"We are here for the good of Singapore and as PM has already said, even though the white paper has been passed, we can continue to talk and discuss it. I don't think there is anything wrong to have more and more discussion and dialogue so that we can have more and more ideas to bring Singapore forward, where the quality of living is not compromised without sacrificing economic growth at the same time." said noted psychiatrist and aspiring politician Dr. Ang Yong Guan when asked to share his opinion on why people had come out to Hong Lim Park to participate in the day's rally.
Freelance writer, Ms. Charlene Shepherdson said that Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha's speech was the most cerebral of the 12 that were given for that afternoon. "Vincent Wijeysingha made an impressive speech, and was the only one who proposed what could be done after this rally, such as writing letters to ministers. He also said we should not forget to volunteer at organizations like HOME to help alleviate problems. He calmed down the crowd, made them think....then Tan Jee Say comes on and undoes all the good that Vincent did."
Dr. Vincent Wijeysingha had this to say when asked at the rally's climax why he chose to speak at the demonstration against the government's white paper: "It's an issue that cuts across all areas of policy and it is an issue that affects all Singaporeans and I think it is something on which we need to show unity and a question on which we needed to show we speak with one voice."
Dr. Wijeysingha also had this to add when asked if he thought that it was still possible for citizens to persuade the government to stop implementing the plans laid out within the white paper: "The thing about the white paper is that it's not law. So in fact I'm sure the government will watch the quality of opposition to it and they will react accordingly. Having said that the government is in a double bind because it is not sure how to move out from the sort of economic structure we have which creates the need for so many migrants. Moving away from the population policy must involve transformation in society and the economy as well."