One paper. Two protest rallies. Number of attendees – varies depending on what you read. Organisers claim that the first rally held on February 16, drew close to 4,000 people, while news report had put the number close to 2,000. The second rally, which coincided with the May Day, was attended by more than 5,000 people, claimed the organisers. News agencies reduce that figure to just around 3,000. People had gathered to protest against the 6.9 million projected population of Singapore in 2030 - or “worst case scenario” as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan later clarified – indicated in the Population White Paper put forward by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD).
Another issue. Another protest. But no conflicting reports on estimates. Unanimous agreement had put the number of attendees of the June 29 event to well-over 20,000 – a record turnout. The event even managed corporate sponsors such as Google, Barclays, Park Royal Hotels, CooperVision, The Gunnery and JPMorgan. People had gathered to campaign for the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore.
First to the population paper protests.
It all started when Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean released the Population White Paper titled, A Sustainable Population for a Dynamic Singapore, on January 29, 2013. It was the population policy roadmap to address Singapore’s demographic challenge as illustrated by the city-state's total fertility rate of 1.2 in 2011, which is way below the replacement level of 2.1. Teo emphasised on the Paper's three-pronged objective of - strengthening the Singaporean core by encouraging Singaporeans to procreate, creating good jobs for increasingly better educated Singaporeans, and ensuring a high quality living environment for all. “However, to prevent our Singaporean population from ageing and shrinking, we will take in immigrants, but at a measured pace,” he said.
And this “pace” as indicated in the Paper would mean that “Singapore’s total population could reach between 6.5 and 6.9 million by 2030. The resident population (comprising citizens and PRs) is projected to be 4.2 to 4.4 million, of which citizens alone will make up 3.6 to 3.8 million, as the growth in the citizen population slows.” The Paper also dealt in detail various bread-and-butter issues concerning all Singaporeans including marriage and parenthood incentives, employment prospects, public housing, transportation, healthcare facilities and a greener environment.
Suddenly, the figure of “6.9 million by 2030” in a country where immigration has been a hot topic since the general elections of 2011, took over the public discourse by storm. The Parliament too hotly debated the issue for five days – the longest in recent history, and passed an amended motion voting along the party lines with 77 People's Action Party (PAP) votes against the rest. The amended motion put forward by PAP's member of parliament from Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency Liang Eng Hwa recognised “that the population projections beyond 2020 are for the purpose of land use and infrastructure planning, and not a population target”.
Even after that a section of the public, led by a non-profit society, Transitioning – Unemployment Support Service (TUSS), remained unconvinced. It organised the first rally in February and followed it up with another in May. While the first rally focussed only on the Population White Paper, the Labour Day rally was a mixed bag with issues such as human rights, increasing wage gap, insufficient central provident funds and language campaigns, all being discussed. Though these rallies attracted politicians from the National Solidarity Party and Singapore Democratic Party, as well as few former candidates of Singapore's presidential elections, the main opposition Workers' Party (WP) was not represented. Later, WP issued its own population paper with “a projected population of 5.6 to 5.8 million in 2030, of which 3.4 to 3.5 million would be Singapore citizens”.
Now, to the LGBT support rally or Pink Dot, as it had come to be known as, which surprisingly attracted more than twice the numbers that population paper protest rallies managed.
Organised by Pink Dot Sg - a non-profit movement, the event marked its fifth edition this year. In 2009, the number of attendees were 2,500, which rose to 4,000 in 2010. Last year, the attendance was 15,000, with about 6,000 more attending this year, “consistently making Pink Dot the largest gathering to take place at Hong Lim Park since the inception of the Speakers’ Corner in 2000”, according to the movement's website. Apart from big sponsors, the event had participants from 20 different community groups including Young Out There, Pelangi Pride Centre, OogaChaga, Maruah and Sayoni. Local media celebrities were also in full attendance.
The issue was the constitutionality of Section 377A of Singapore's penal code [which criminalises gay sex] being challenged in two separate court cases. The Court of Appeal, when allowing a claim challenging the Section to be heard in court last year had said “we are not deciding here that 377A is inconsistent with Art 12 as that goes to the merits of the Application. We are merely deciding that it is arguably so”. Article 12(1) of Singapore's constitution states “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. The matter is still sub judice with the final judgement been eagerly awaited.