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GE2020: PAP should raise concerns on 10 million population figure with The Straits Times, says SDP

SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is digging in its heels over the controversy on whether the Government, under the People’s Action Party (PAP), in March last year had said that it was looking at lifting Singapore’s population to 10 million.

Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah (right) makes house visits in Pending Road, Bukit Panjang on July 3, 2020.

Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah (right) makes house visits in Pending Road, Bukit Panjang on July 3, 2020.

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  • SDP is urging the PAP to take up concerns on 10 million population figure with The Straits Times
  • Chairman Paul Tambyah said Singaporeans should ‘read the article’, decide for themselves
  • PAP could have clarified the issue earlier, he said
  • SDP welcomes PAP statement that it is not looking at a population of 10 million


SINGAPORE — The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is digging in its heels over the controversy on whether the Government, under the People’s Action Party (PAP), in March last year had said that it was looking at lifting Singapore’s population to 10 million.

The party’s chairman Paul Tambyah said on Friday (July 3) that PAP, which has slammed the SDP for citing that figure, should take up any unhappiness it may have over the claim with The Straits Times.

That’s because the opposition party got that 10 million figure from an article in the national broadsheet, he added, in response to questions from reporters during a walkabout at the Al-Imam mosque at Bukit Panjang. The PAP Government has repeatedly said it did not make any reference to looking at increasing the population to 10 million.

Dr Tambyah also called on Singaporeans to make the assessment themselves. “... don't trust what the PAP says, don't trust what the SDP says, trust your own eyes. Read the article, see what it says.”

He added: “The SDP is quoting The Straits Times. If you're not happy with the statement, please take it up with The Straits Times. We never made any statement at all.”

The article, dated March 29, 2019, reported Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s remarks made at a forum.

The article stated: “On the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030, set out in the Government's 2013 Population White Paper, Mr Heng said the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be. The social space is as important. Singapore's population density is not excessive, he said, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space. He cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term."

A sharp exchange of words between the SDP and the PAP over the 10 million population figure erupted on Wednesday evening when Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, a member of PAP’s central executive committee, went head-to-head against Dr Chee Soon Juan, the SDP secretary-general, during a live debate.

Dr Balakrishnan accused Dr Chee of “raising a false strawman” when Dr Chee asked his opponent to go on record on whether the Government indeed had plans to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million.

The Straits Times clarified on Thursday, the day after the debate, that Mr Heng had neither said Singapore should plan for 10 million people — nor mentioned the figure during the forum.

On the same day, Mr Heng made those same points and posted a video of the forum on his Facebook page, inviting Singaporeans to watch it.

During the forum, responding to a question on population, Mr Heng had said: “Seriously, on the population issue, first of all, the 6.9 million number that was put out earlier on. In fact, I met Mr Liu Thai Kher, our former chief planner, and he said, I think he had publicly said this, it had been reported in the papers, that we should go for even higher number, and that this little red rock, little red dot rather, can accommodate many more people.”

“Now whether this little red rock can accommodate many more people, actually is not strictly just the physical constraints. I mean we cannot be thinking of 50 million people on this little red dot because you’ll just be so dense and unpleasant. But if you look at our population density as a city, it is not excessive. There are many cities, which if you look at the livable space, it is actually a lot, a lot more crowded. But the population number is not just about the physical space. It is also about the social space. It is about the sense of togetherness.”

On Friday, Dr Tambyah reiterated the SDP’s stance that the clarification by Dr Balakrishnan on Wednesday — that the Government had no such plans — was good for Singapore and that the SDP had achieved one goal of their campaign, which is a “no” to Singapore aiming for a population of 10 million.

Dr Tambyah also said that this whole furore has been a misunderstanding. But the Government had plenty of opportunities to clarify the statement in The Straits Times, he added.

“For the longest time they have refused to deny the 10 million. You know that report came out in March 2019. We launched our ‘4Y1N’ (four yeses, one no) in April 2020. You know, they have kept quiet all through, they have had this ambiguity. Now finally, for the first time they have said no,” he said.

The 4Y1N campaign involved four propositions the SDP supported, and one it opposed — namely possible plans to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million.

Reiterating his call for Singaporeans to make their own judgment, he said: “The thing to do for Singaporeans is read with your own eyes. What do your own eyes tell you? What did Dr Chee say and what did Dr Vivian Balakrishnan say? Who is the one who is reading The Straits Times article the same way you read The Straits Times article?”

Late on Thursday night, the PAP issued a press statement calling into question the integrity of the SDP for basing one of their campaign proposals on a falsehood.

When asked to respond to that, Dr Tambyah said he is completely baffled over claims that SDP is perpetuating a falsehood.

“What is the falsehood? So are they reading the same article, do they have the same pair of eyes, did they go to the same school, learn how to read English the same way?”

“This is an unprecedented election. It is held in the middle of a pandemic. And what you are doing is you are arguing about what happened in a university forum in March 2019,” he said.

In his constituency broadcast for Bukit Panjang on Friday evening, Dr Tambyah again raised the contention and said that, above all else, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that overcrowding is a recipe for the spread of infectious diseases and other social ills.

“We have to say ‘no’ to a 10 million population. The PAP now appears to have backed down on this one. Well done Singapore,” he said.

TODAY has sought comment from The Straits Times.


During a walkabout at Bukit Batok on Friday, Dr Chee reiterated that the 10 million figure was not conjured up by the SDP and has been bandied about in public discussions. 

“(The figure) didn't originate from us. And if we know it and it’s public, the people here know it too. What we wanted to do was just to make sure that the PAP categorically told them, 'No, it’s off the table, no ifs, whens or buts’, which Dr Balakrishnan said in no uncertain terms (on the televised debate),” he said. 

On PAP questioning SDP’s integrity over the matter, Dr Chee said: “That’s the political stuff they trot out in every election.” 

In a separate media statement, SDP cited examples such as comments in April 2018 by Housing Board chief executive Cheong Koon Hean, who said that Singapore's population density would increase from 11,000 people per sq km to 13,700 people per sq km between 2018 and 2030. “Given our land area, this means that our population would go up to nearly 10 million by 2030,” SDP pointed out. 

It added that “there is disquiet among the public that Singapore may, indeed, be moving towards a 10 million population”. 

“We are gratified that Dr Vivian Balakrishnan categorically said at the political debate on July 1 that the PAP will not increase the population to 10 million or even 6.9 million,” said the party, adding that it was “mission accomplished” as far as one of its campaign planks was concerned. 

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SDP PAP Paul Tambyah SGVotes2020 Singapore General Election

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