S’pore opposition party calls for fewer foreigners at rare public rally

September 26, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Alex Kennedy

Associated Press

An opposition party urged Singapore’s government to slow the influx of foreign workers at a rare public rally Saturday in the tightly controlled city-state.

About 200 supporters of the Singapore Democratic Party also called for a minimum wage and a lower sales tax to improve living standards for workers.

“All we’re doing is bringing in cheap foreign labor,” SDP Secretary General Chee Soon Juan said in the rally at Speaker’s Corner park, the only place outdoor rallies are allowed. “Citizens can’t make a decent living when they have to compete with foreigners.”

A sharp increase in the number of foreign workers in the last few years is likely to be a key issue in the next general elections, which the government must call by February 2012.

About 150,000 foreign workers have entered Singapore each year since 2007, and now make up about one-third of the island’s 3 million work force.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month the government would allow just 80,000 foreigners in this year and acknowledged that Singaporeans are concerned that foreigners are crowding public transportation and boosting competition for jobs and housing.

“When you bring such numbers in a short period of time, you’re asking for trouble,” Chee said.

The government, which expects the economy to grow by as much as 15 percent this year, has argued that foreign workers are necessary to boost growth.

The People’s Action Party, which has ruled since independence in 1965, won 82 of parliament’s 84 elected seats at the last elections in 2006. The SDP contested seven seats, winning none, and received 4 percent of the popular vote.

The government has not said when the elections will be, but Chee said he believes they may be called for December. Prime Minister Lee declined to comment when asked earlier this month at a news conference if he could rule out elections this year.

Rallies at the Speaker’s Corner require police permission. Singapore is known for its restrictions on public speech, which the government says are necessary to maintain political stability in the multiethnic, multi-religious city-state. Critics say the laws restrict dissent.

Chee was forced into bankruptcy in 2006 by a $300,000 ruling against him on charges of defaming former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Lock Yu Ming, an unemployed economist, said he came to the rally Saturday to hear what ideas the SDP has for dealing with the impact of foreign workers.

“Like most Singaporeans, I’m uncomfortable with so many foreigners. They’re everywhere,” Lock said. “I’ve come here with an open mind and will vote for whomever has the best solutions, be it the government or the opposition.”

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