The Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Heng Swee Keat, who will be contesting in 2020 General Election from the East Coast GRC along with four People's Action Party (PAP) members, has clarified in a Facebook post on Thursday morning that he did not say that Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million people, nor did he mention the figure.

In fact, he said that the Singapore population is likely to be significantly below the projected 6.9 million by 2030. DPM Heng made this clarification after Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, during a live debate broadcast on TV and online, had taken aim at the minister for "toying with the idea" of having a population of 10 million people in Singapore.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat
East Coast candidate Heng Swee Keat

Dr Chee cited a dialogue held at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in March 2019, where Heng had said that Singapore's population density was not excessive. DPM Heng had noted that many other cities were more crowded in terms of living space, and cited former chief executive of the Housing Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority Liu Thai Ker.

As per the reports, it was Liu who raised the notion that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term. Heng did not mention that the Republic should plan for 10 million people.

In his recent Facebook post DPM Heng explained, "In my response, I mentioned that former chief planner Liu Thai Ker had publicly said that we should go for an even higher number. Far from endorsing this, I had explained that our population size was not just about physical space, but also about social space and how we can preserve a sense of togetherness."

The Facts

The 82-year-old Lui had raised the debate in 2013 after the release of a controversial Population White Paper. In response to the document which projected Singapore's population would reach 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030, Liu said Singapore would do well to look beyond 2030. Liu, who is the Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities, estimated that the population could reach 10 million by 2100. He also said that infrastructure had to be planned with this in mind as Singapore population growth cannot simply be curbed after 2030.

But SDP has made the 10 million figure a key part of its 2020 election campaign with the slogan "One No" in its Four Yes, One No (4Y1N), referring to opposition to the ruling PAP plan to increase country's population to 10 million by bringing in foreign talent.

PAP's Response

While Dr Chee on Wednesday said that Singaporeans are "deadly worried" about this proposal, PAP minister Vivian Balakrishnan responded stating, "Dr Chee, just today, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) issued a statement advising people like you not to indulge in falsehoods." The minister also added that as per the records, Singapore will never have 10 million population and the government doesn't have a target for the population.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
Singapore minister Vivian Balakrishnan YouTube/ govsingapore

After the Wednesday's debate got over, netizens raised concerns on social media, claiming that Balakrishnan was given 4.5 minutes in the debate, whereas candidates of other parties were barely given 1.5 minutes each and argued that the time given to Balakrishnan was not unfair.

Four political parties had a candidate each present during the debate. Balakrishnan from Singapore's ruling party, PAP, Jamus Lim from the Workers' Party, Francis Yuen from Progress Singapore Party (PSP), and Dr Chee from SDP.

Apart from the ruling party candidate, all the participants received 1.5 minutes each to state their concerns and question Balakrishnan. Essentially, the combined time given to other candidates was 4.5 minutes. As Balakrishnan had to answer all these questions, 1.5 minutes would not be enough to respond on each and every question. Hence, he was given 4.5 minutes.

However, netizens did not understand the process and ended up speculating that PAP was given an "unfair advantage'' in the election debate on Wednesday.