Singapore GE2020: WP and PSP leaders weigh in on controversy over population target

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, accompanied by party chairman Sylvia Lim (far left) and Punggol West SMC candidate Tan Chen Chen, chatting with customers at a coffee shop in Punggol Way yesterday.
Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, accompanied by party chairman Sylvia Lim (far left) and Punggol West SMC candidate Tan Chen Chen, chatting with customers at a coffee shop in Punggol Way yesterday. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Leaders of Singapore's two largest opposition parties said yesterday that the dispute between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) over an alleged 10m population target stemmed from the ruling party's lack of clarity on the issue.

Both Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) leader Tan Cheng Bock weighed in on the issue that gained prominence after an exchange between SDP chief Chee Soon Juan and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan during a televised debate on Wednesday.

At the debate, Dr Balakrishnan had called Dr Chee's assertion that the PAP was toying with the idea of a population of 10 million for Singapore a "falsehood".

Mr Singh, speaking to reporters during a walkabout in Punggol West, said that it was not clear Dr Chee's statements can be described as such, especially in the context of Singapore's fake news law - the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

"When you have ministers in the past who've made allusions to how we possibly could have more, a larger population size, then I think there is room for fair comment about really what is the size that we are aiming towards.

"I think most reasonable people would come to that conclusion," he said. "We need to think hard about the nature of falsehood and really does this fall squarely in that sort of definition."

Mr Singh, who did not endorse either the PAP's or SDP's position, said he wanted to be cautious and not "delve too deeply into it" because it is not a matter involving the WP.

He did say, however, that the population question should have been cleared up earlier.

"So one of the things I don't understand is why can't these things actually come up well before the elections. I mean, it's the Government's position, so it should state that very clearly."

Separately, PSP's Dr Tan said the issue has likely become a hot topic because the Government has not been sharing its data.

"If the data is not given to you, people will speculate... because they don't know. You are not transparent with your data," he told reporters while canvassing for votes in Chua Chu Kang GRC, which his party is contesting.

Dr Tan said that even if there were a 10 million population target, he would have no objection to the figure if the reasons given by the Government are "sound and logical".

"Just tell us, we want the 10 million, and why. We need it because of this reason, we see it (this way),'' he said, adding that people will then say "if it can or cannot (be done)".

"But you've got to show us the data. Don't give it to us in bits and pieces."

On Thursday, a day after the issue was brought up at the debate, the PAP said a key plank of the SDP's election campaign is based on a false claim that the Government plans to raise the country's population to 10 million.

The PAP added that the honourable thing for Dr Chee to do would have been to admit that his party's campaign was based on a falsehood, withdraw it and apologise to Singaporeans for misleading them.

The SDP had responded to the PAP's claim that the allegation was false by saying it had successfully pressured the ruling party into pledging not to increase the population to 10 million.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2020, with the headline WP and PSP leaders weigh in on controversy over population target. Subscribe