Protest, voter anger put political risk in Singapore's future

Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:37am EST
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By John O'Callaghan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Gilbert Goh is an unlikely radical.

But as anger swells over living costs and immigration in Singapore, one of Asia's richest and most expensive countries, the bespectacled 51-year-old unemployment counsellor is moving beyond the fringe of political activism to the center of a rancorous debate over the nation's future.

In a country where nearly all media are state-linked and open dissent can easily fall foul of the long-ruling government, Goh's call for a public protest on Saturday is striking a nerve.

It is also raising the once-absurd prospect of political risk in one of the world's biggest financial and trading centers that has been built on a reputation of stability.

Goh set up a Facebook page in early February calling for the protest after the government said the island's population of 5.3 million could grow by as much as 30 percent by 2030, mostly through foreign workers to offset a chronically low birth rate.

Since then, more than 5,300 people have said they will or may go to what Goh has billed as a peaceful, non-political demonstration at Speakers' Corner, a park exempt from otherwise strict controls on assemblies in the regimented city-state.

Such numbers would make it one of the largest demonstrations since Singapore's independence from Britain in 1963.

"We want to have human rights to be able to speak freely without the fear of reprisal," said Goh, a former social worker who runs a support group for the unemployed and ran for election in 2011 for the opposition National Solidarity Party.   Continued...

Eric Lim, a supporter of Saturday's public protest, holds up a poster to inform the public of the event, during lunch hour in the central business district Raffles Place in Singapore February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Edgar Su