Newbies a rising force

Seah Chiang Nee
The Star

The continuing flow of new migrants may soon leave its mark on local politics, becoming a force capable of changing governments and dictating policies in the not too distant future.

In the next few months, Singapore will likely witness the largest number of new citizens voting for the first time in a general election.

This is only an early step of a long-term immigration policy to offer up to 20,000 citizenships to foreigners every year to avoid population decline.

Between 2006 and last year, the government registered 91,900 new citizens, a record for a five-year period in contemporary Singapore. Until then, the comparative rate was about a third.

This continuing flow of new migrants to settle down here may soon leave its mark on politics.

“This is not surprising. Every aspect of life has more or less been affected by the changed demography, how can politics be excluded?” an undergrad commented.

The majority of these 91,900 – estimated at 75% or 68,000 – are adults and eligible to vote or contest in an election.

The figure appears unimpressive when compared with Singapore’s 2.16 million registered voters (of whom only 1.15 million actually voted in 2006) .

However, it formed a surprisingly large portion – 45% – of the increase in voters (151,680) between the last election and currently.

The implication for the future is clear. Over time, parity will be reached when first-time voters between old and new Singaporeans are counted.

If this number had taken part in the last election, it would have added 5.9% to the total votes cast.

As the demographic evolution continues, these new citizens could one day become a formidable force capable of changing governments and dictating policies in the republic.

Out of this huge demographic shift will eventually emerge political changes. Short-term, who will gain more, the PAP or opposition? Most analysts believe there is only one answer – the ruling PAP.

A political observer explained: “For many, it’s out of gratitude for the opportunity. They see the PAP as able and willing to protect their interests.”

Others say that some are worried that the opposition, if it gains power, may one day close the doors on them if pressured by the public.

One critic who opposes large-scale immigration conceded that it would be hard for any opposition party to campaign too strongly in favour of immigrants, without upsetting Singaporeans.

“Many will vote for the PAP. Luckily, the number of naturalised citizens is still too low to make a big impact,” he said.

The government has been accused of having an ulterior motive in speeding up the granting of citizenships: to gain more votes and stay in power.

It has ordered an updating of the electoral rolls for the third time in a year to include more new citizens to vote in the coming election, said pro-opp­osition website Temasek Review.

“As immigrants usually vote for the ruling party, their votes will make a crucial difference in closely fought contests.” it added.

Apart from feeling beholden, new citizens are quite happy with the way Singapore is run. That is a main reason for their being here.

This sanguine feeling and goodwill, however, is unlikely to remain unchanged for long.

Over the longer term, as their numbers increase and they live here longer, their attitudes will almost certainly change to move closer to that of society at large.

The new residents who are settling here have come from many countries, with a contrasting mix of language, religion, politics and social background.

Unless the government of the day is skilful in balancing demands and forging bonds, politics in Singapore could become unpredictable and chaotic.

The PAP appears to realise this. It has allocated S$10mil for community events to bring new and old Singaporeans together hoping for a faster process of integration.

It is a tough call, though.

In politics, the division between local Singaporeans is already growing. With new citizens becoming increasingly involved in politics, the threat of fractions will grow.

Already some heat has been generated, with some permanent residents actively involved in verbal battles, and trading online insults, with locals.

As more Singaporeans shun PAP-organised community activities in housing estates, foreign PRs are stepping in.

An official admitted that 20% of leaders of grassroots organisation scattered throughout the island – Citizens Consultative Committees and Residents Committees – are PRs.

The organisations are regarded as an important part of the PAP’s political machinery, and many aspiring politicians who want to be noticed join them.

In recent months, they have been actively recruiting new citizens and PRs living in the HDB heartlands.

Any insensitive use of foreign PRs to campaign for the government could create friction among Singaporeans who resent their presence here.

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