Singapore GE2020: Time to move on from 10m population dispute says SDP, accuses PAP of 'desperation'

Singapore Democratic Party leaders Paul Tambyah and Chee Soon Juan on walkabouts in Bukit Panjang and Bukit Batok respectively on July 4, 2020. ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Singapore Democratic Party leaders Paul Tambyah and Chee Soon Juan said it was time for the election campaign to move on from the 10 million population dispute - but not before accusing the PAP of "desperation" and asserting again that their party had come out on top.

Party chairman Paul Tambyah, speaking on Saturday (July 4) during a walkabout in Bukit Panjang, which he is contesting, also praised his election rival, the People's Action Party's Liang Eng Hwa, for declining to comment on the population saga when asked by reporters.

"That is exactly the way it should be. This is what we want this campaign to be fought on. We don't want it to be fought on personal attacks, on events which occurred one year ago... We want to talk about the issues," he said.

"We want to have a fair campaign, have people look at the different visions for how we want to see Singapore in a post-Covid era."

Prof Tambyah's call to move on came after he reiterated that the SDP extracted a promise from the Government that it was not aiming for a 10 million population target for Singapore.

The PAP and its leaders have repeatedly said there have never been such plans, and accused the SDP and Dr Chee, its secretary general, of attempting to mislead Singaporeans.

On Saturday, Dr Chee said the PAP was "beating a dead horse" by having continued to raise the issue. He told reporters at a coffee shop in Bukit Batok after a walkabout: "We said what we wanted to say. Job done, mission accomplished.

"Now we are asking voters to get us into Parliament to make sure that the PAP, what it says before the election, it continues to hold on to it after the election."

One of the SDP's key planks in the election was a call to voters to say "no" to what the party said was the PAP's plan to increase Singapore's population to 10 million.

The SDP maintains that the 10 million figure was from a Straits Times report on remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at a dialogue with Nanyang Technological University students in March last year.

The March 29, 2019 article on the dialogue, which included a question on population density, reported that Mr Heng said Singapore's population density is not excessive, and noted that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space.

The article also said Mr Heng 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.

Mr Heng had cited Mr Liu in his response to a question on the Government's 2013 Population White Paper. However, he had stressed that the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be. The social space is as important, he said, adding that openness and understanding is important.

But Mr Heng did not say Singapore should plan for 10 million people - nor did he mention the figure.

Dr Chee cited the report in a televised debate on Wednesday night, claiming that Mr Heng had toyed with the idea of raising the population to 10 million - a charge refuted several times by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan of the PAP, who also took part in the debate.

Dr Balakrishnan told Dr Chee at the debate that the 10 million figure was a "strawman" and a "falsehood", adding: "Let me state for the record: We will never have 10 million. We won't even have 6.9 million. The Government doesn't have a target for the population.

"What we want is a Singapore core that is demographically stable, able to reproduce ourselves, able to create opportunities and jobs for ourselves and able to stay as a cohesive whole. It is not a target, and it's certainly not 10 million."

On Friday, the PAP released a statement, saying it was "disappointed that Dr Chee and the SDP have dug their heels in, repeated their falsehoods and refused to apologise to Singaporeans for misleading them".

In that same statement, the party also criticised Prof Tambyah, saying: "We are disappointed and surprised Dr Paul Tambyah, the SDP's chairman, has joined his chief in this charade. We thought he was a better man."

On Saturday, Prof Tambyah described the PAP's comments as being "a sign of desperation", and said it showed that the ruling party had "run out of ideas".

"So, they've resorted to the old PAP tactics of just politics of personal destruction."

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