Singapore, which is boosting infrastructure to accommodate a population of 6.9 million by 2030, said the number of people in the city state will be “significantly” lower than what it is planning for.
The government won’t decide on a population trajectory beyond 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament yesterday as lawmakers from his ruling party endorsed a white paper that outlined proposals including allowing more foreigners into the country to boost the workforce. Opposition members rejected the motion, saying immigration as a policy to spur economic growth is not sustainable.
Record-high housing and transport costs, public discontent over an influx of foreigners and infrastructure strains in the country of 5.3 million people are weakening approval for Lee’s party. Singaporeans are planning a protest next week against the government’s population projections for 2030, which could see citizens, including new ones, making up only one of every two people on the island smaller in size than New York City.
“We will track and control the number of non-Singaporeans and the inflow of immigrants so that we are not overhauled just by the sheer flood of people coming in,” Lee said. “We are not deciding on a population of 6.9 million for 2030 now.”
Lee’s administration is under pressure to placate voters without disrupting the entry of talent and labor that helped forge the only advanced economy in Southeast Asia. His party lost two by-elections after returning to power in May 2011 with the lowest share of the popular vote since independence in 1965.
The five-day debate focused on setting a framework to address Singapore’s demographic challenges of an aging population and a shrinking workforce. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said it’s the longest debate he can remember in his two decades in politics.
There may be as many as 6 million people in Singapore by 2020, according to the white paper, which also included plans to increase housing availability and improve transportation networks. The island’s population has jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004, stoking social tensions as the government used immigration to make up for a low birth rate.
“We believe that the greater well-being of Singaporeans lies in sustainable economic growth driven by increases in our productivity and in our resident workforce, rather than further increases in our dependency on imported foreign labor,” Sylvia Lim, a member of Parliament who is chairman of the Workers’ Party, said in a statement after the parliamentary vote.
Her party, the only opposition with elected representatives in the legislative body, proposes the nation should have a population of not more than 5.9 million by 2030.
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