SINGAPORE, July 5 — The People's Action Party (PAP) keeps attacking the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and its chief Chee Soon Juan over a controversy on whether the Government had said that it was looking to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million, SDP chairman Paul Tambyah said. This is a sign that the ruling party is “desperate”, he added.
“You know they have run out of ideas so they have resorted to the old PAP tactics of politics of personal destruction,” Tambyah told reporters yesterday.
Tambyah's remarks came after the PAP released a scathing statement late on Friday, saying that it was disappointed with him and Chee for misleading voters with a “mythical” 10 million projected population figure for Singapore and refusing to apologise for it.
Yesterday, Tambyah reiterated his position that the party did not conjure up the figure and that it was quoting from a March 2019 article published by The Straits Times, which reported Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s remarks 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, 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.”
In recent days, the national daily and Heng both clarified that he had not mentioned the 10 million figure.
Responding to PAP's latest statement, Tambyah said: “The report is there, it's in black and white... The Straits Times’ Zakir Hussain, the news editor, said that anyone reading the sentence would not think that that is something Heng wanted. I find that to be really baffling.”
Speaking to reporters during his walkabout at the Bukit Panjang single-seat ward, which he is contesting in the July 10 General Election, Tambyah also questioned PAP's choice of timing in correcting the SDP about this matter.
“The government had plenty of opportunity to clarify. On April 28, 2020, we launched the '4Y1N' (campaign). We could easily have been Pofma-ed. Because we have been Pofma-ed for interpretation of data and statistics,” he said, referring to the anti-fake news laws known as the Protection from Online Manipulation and Harassment Act , or Pofma in short.
SDP's 4Y1N campaign stands for “Four Yeses, One No,” with the “no” referring to a rejection of an increase in Singapore's population to 10 million.
“How come they waited so long before they suddenly decided that this is a falsehood, in the middle of an election campaign, in the middle of a pandemic?” he questioned.
In a separate walkabout in Yishun on Saturday, K. Shanmugam, the PAP candidate for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency, was asked by the media why the government did not clarify the 10 million population figure or issue a Pofma direction to SDP earlier.
“I... am perplexed,” Shanmugam said. He was the law and home affairs minister before parliament was dissolved. “Obviously, parliamentary statements are not looked at.”
He added that in the parliamentary debate over the 2018 national Budget, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had already said that Singapore’s population will be well below 6.9 million in 2030.
“So what else are we supposed to say? We have given the figures. It was said in Parliament, if I’m not wrong, more than once,” Shanmugam said.
Campaigning on issues
What PAP has said aside, Tambyah noted that the response from other opposition leaders regarding this dispute has been encouraging.
“It shows that right thinking people who look at the data, they can see through the PAP's charade — that's to use their word — of character assassination and personal attacks. So the other opposition leaders also want to focus on the issues,” he said.
“They have recognised and they have supported this idea, that this election is about the future of Singapore. It's not about a statement made in The Straits Times in March 2019.”
PAP's statement on Friday night had also criticised other opposition parties for “opportunistically (jumping) into the fray,” and singled out the Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh, who had commented on the matter earlier that same day.
When asked for his response to the PAP statement on Saturday, Pritam first pointed out that he had not “jumped into the issue”, but was asked about it by a reporter on Friday morning, and so was merely answering a question.
On Friday, he said that the problem with the PAP-SDP dispute stemmed from how the government defines a “falsehood” and added that there was room for fair comment regarding the government’s projected population size.
Reiterating WP's position yesterday during a walkabout at a market on Marine Terrace, Pritam said: “It's very helpful, critical, that we all deal with objective information.”
He added that population size is a sensitive issue and noted that when the government released its White Paper in 2013 projecting a population increase to 6.9 million in 2030, there was widespread backlash and even protests at the Speakers' Corner.
Pritam said that the White Paper had mentioned that the government would review the population size at the end of the decade, and that he had filed a parliamentary question asking when the review was going to take place.
“The answer was: We already did it in 2018. I'm not sure how many of you knew there was a review of the population policy in 2018,” he said, adding that the government should do more to help the public understand its thinking and its way forward.
Tambyah’s opponent in Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency, Liang Eng Hwa from PAP, was also asked to weigh in on the dispute on Saturday morning but demurred, telling reporters that he just wanted to focus on the ward’s residents.
“They are worried about their jobs. They want to see the estate improve because this is a 30-year-old estate. So there's continued investment into improving the estate. So I want to give my total focus on this and not be distracted by anything because this is important,” Liang said.
Having heard about Liang’s response, Tambyah praised him.
“I take my hat off to him, because that's what we want to do. 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-19 era. So if Mr Liang said that, thank you very much. I totally agree. This campaign needs to be fought on issues, not on events from one year ago,” he said.
Government lost focus on public health because of GE?
During a public forum on Friday evening, Tambyah had suggested the possibility that the ministerial committee in charge of tackling Covid-19 crisis lost its focus on public health and started thinking about the election in March, CNA reported.
Speaking at the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Pre-General Election Forum 2020, Dr Tambyah praised Singapore's initial handling of the pandemic, and noted that even when the first worker dormitory cases were discovered in February, these were handled well.
But, he added, “all hell broke loose” in March.
“I have an opinion as to why that happened, I don't know for sure. But you know that was the time they started talking about an early election. And you wonder whether the ministerial committee lost their focus on public health and started thinking about the election.” — TODAY