Singapore’s Population Debate Grows Heated
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Singapore’s Population Debate Grows Heated


Edwina Lin is 24-years-old and happily married, with a young son turning two this year. In Singapore, a prosperous city-state with a dismal birth rate, this is becoming increasingly rare.

But it’s not all smooth sailing. Lin, a financial planner, and her family are currently living with her parents- and brother-in-law; five adults and one child squeezed into a four-room flat in one of Singapore’s many public housing estates.

She and her husband, a travel sales agent, have applied to buy a five-room flat in a newer estate that will only be ready in 2016. Until then, there isn’t much to do but work, earn as much money as possible and save up. They‘re expecting to have to take out a 30-year mortgage to pay for their home.

It’s a common tale among many young families in Singapore. Property prices have skyrocketed in recent years, and citizens have yet to feel the effects of the “cooling measures” adopted by the government. It’s a bitter pill to swallow as wages stagnate and the income gap widens; all while the country continues to record positive economic growth.

Singapore has often been cited as a success story, the envy of governments around the world. But simmering underneath the gloss and the shine lies a much more complex story of a nation slowly outgrowing a patriarchal government and restrictive system.

Not long after losing a by-election, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) launched a White Paper entitled ‘A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore’. The paper outlined the government’s plans to sustain economic growth and deal with a rapidly aging population, but for the most part only one thing captured the public imagination: the projected population of  6.9 million by 2030.

It’s a very unattractive prospect, especially when strains have already begun to show with 5.3 million people crammed onto an island of only 714.3 square kilometres. Flooding and train breakdowns are only some of the problems that have begun to annoy Singaporeans used to taking efficiency for granted.

Despite the public outcry, criticism from expert economists and five days of intense debate in Parliament, the PAP was able to use its parliamentary majority to push the motion through.

In the past, Singaporeans would have probably just complained in coffee shops before going about their everyday business, but not anymore. For many, the White Paper was the last straw. A protest organized at Hong Lim Park – the only space in the country where citizens are allowed to protest without a permit – drew a crowd of over 3,000 people, all of whom were fed up with the government’s policy and lack of serious engagement.

“It’s a united show of displeasure by the citizens against the White Paper even though it has been passed in Parliament,” says organiser Gilbert Goh. “Singaporeans basically are not happy with the 6.9 million population target by 2030 and are dropping all preconceived fears to step out of their comfort zone.”

Lin, too, had wanted to attend the protest, but had to stay home to take care of her son. Like the protesters, she has many misgivings about the White Paper and the quality of life for future generations: “The most worrying is that my children and grandchildren will have harder lives – and no signs of getting better quality of life – despite hard work put in, unlike our parents’ and grandparents’ generation when opportunities were abundant.”

Placards seen at the protest showcase the people’s frustrations. “We want to be heard, not herded!” one proclaims.

“We are not your ‘sheeple’,” says another.

It’s a sign that the government’s efforts to launch a ‘national conversation’ are not quite going to plan. Despite the social media pages, the love-heart-filled website and the dialogue sessions soliciting citizen viewpoints, Singaporeans still don’t feel like they’re part of the decision-making process.

December 15, 2013 at 12:24

Singapore must remain a Chinese majority nation.

[...] Singapore's population Debate Grows Heated Lin, a financial planner, and her family are currently living with her folks- and brother-in-law; five adults and one youngster squeezed into a four-room flat in one in every of Singapore's many public housing estates. She and her husband, a trip sales agent … learn extra on the Diplomat [...]

March 25, 2013 at 13:30

[...] media became the main platform for local Singaporeans to voice their opposition and grievances over the surge in foreigners in recent years. These sudden influx would put a strain [...]

March 17, 2013 at 13:44

Japan has large numbers of migrant workers working in its factories. Honda would not be able to make anything without South American labour.

[...] and implications of government measures have been reflected in the demography.matters blog, in the Diplomat as well as on MercatorNet recently. With about one third of the Singaporean population of [...]

February 23, 2013 at 22:36

Look at Japan and other great economic powers of the world. They don’t import foreigners in great number to boost economic growth. In fact, most of them take only real talents of the world. They don’t support their SMEs to grow locally due to limited land and lack of cheap labour. It makes for sense for them to ask and support their SMEs to go overseas and grow. These Japanese companies are in US, ASEAN, Europe, etc to tap on their land, labour and market. Singapore economic model is wrong. It is like banging yourself against the wall one day. The people up there have turned deft !

[...] Singapore’s Population Debate Grows Heated (The [...]

February 22, 2013 at 20:45

Malaysia and Singapore has a love hate relationship. The politics are also of the same temperance. Both PAP and UMNO has very close working relationships. In 2013 Malaysia GE, the result is going to affect 2016 Singapore GE.

As a Singaporean, I firmly believe that whatever my forefathers have worked for, they belong to this land. Singapore is a very different country than most countries. We have alot of money, a citizenship entitles u to a share in our reserves, not debts like others. Hence, I rather use the money to build a gold pyramid than to give a single cent to foreigners.

February 21, 2013 at 13:51

As long as Malaysia predominated Malay Governement  continue to discriminate the minority races,

there is no way Singaporeans will consider at all of re-joing Malaysia.

Hong Kong Citizen
February 21, 2013 at 02:27

@ John Chan


You are a mainland Chinese, they are very racists people anyways so please don't try and pull racists card on here. Everybody in Hong Kong do not like the CCP and how corrupt and polluted it is. In fact there are many protests in Hong Kong saying that we want the British back!! The British treated us with equality and respect, CCP is just greedy!!!

February 16, 2014 at 00:21

You mean the British treated the Chinese with equality and respect by selling opium to China? And do you mean the HK slumlords are not greedy when they charge sky high rents for the privilege of living in a box?

February 20, 2013 at 17:12

It is better for Singapore to form a new union with Malaysia. After all, it was once part of the Malaysian Federation. The old leaders or old hot-air bags of suspicion that once ruled Malaysia are gone and the present batch of leaders are aware that minorities are not a liability to the country since they are shrinking, (relative to the current population size) and not growing at all.

December 16, 2013 at 04:06

Anyone joining the corrupted racist Malaysian Government is looking for troubles. In fact the earlier batch of Malay leaders like Tunku and Onn Jaafar is one of best exemplary and distinguish leaders. Malaysia has since gone to the dogs since the day an Indian Muslim by the name of Mahathir was elected as Prime Minister. The majority of Malaysians named him as Father of corruption, racism and nepotism.

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