SINGAPORE-In 17 years’ time, this tiny but bustling Southeast Asian city-state could see its population swell by nearly a third to 6.9 million people. But should it? And how would the island nation deal with it?
These pressing questions have stirred raucous debate in Singapore this week, as laymen and lawmakers voiced concerns with a new government platform that keeps immigration as a key tool for tackling the country’s low birthrates and aging population. But they failed to sway the People’s Action Party government, which adopted the plans on Friday after a decisive parliamentary vote.
The result was never in doubt, with the PAP holding 80 out of 87 seats in Parliament. But analysts say it could antagonize an electorate that has steadily deserted the ruling party in recent years amid rising socioeconomic tensions, adding pressure on the PAP to do more to assuage citizens’ grievances.
“We are producing too few babies, our society is aging, and if we do nothing, our population will soon start shrinking,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Parliament Friday before the vote. “We have to get our population policies right, so as to give ourselves the best chance of success.”
Under the white paper endorsed Friday, the government will prepare infrastructure and social programs for a potential population size of between 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030, up from 5.3 million today, to ensure a workforce structure that supports “a dynamic economy that can steadily create good jobs and opportunities.” The measures include taking in 15,000 to 25,000 new citizens and granting permanent residency to about 30,000 people yearly-both slower rates than before-and rationalizing current land-use plans.
But the proposals irked many citizens who are increasingly disillusioned with rapid immigration, which has boosted Singapore’s population by nearly 32% since 2000, but also been blamed for soaring home prices, infrastructure failings, and a widening gap between rich and poor. They surfaced their complaints in letters to newspapers, online blog posts and petitions. Some even plan to stage a rare public protest.
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