By Howard Lee
Barely 15 minutes into the first speech, and there was already about 2,000 people gathered at Hong Lim Park to hear speakers talk about the Central Provident Fund and to demand that the government return CPF monies to citizens.
The crowd demographics was mixed – while there were many senior citizens, most of them were in the 30s to 40s, of typical working age.
Many came with umbrellas to brave the heat, but as the evening came and brought cool relief, participants started to move away from the shade of the tree line towards the stage.
Event organisers claimed there were 6,000 participants at the protest, although conservative estimates using photographs would put the total number of attendees at about 3,500. Even so, this number far exceeds the 1,200 sign-ups on the event's Facebook page.
While not as numerous as those who attended the first Population White Paper protest, attendees gave some insights as to why this is the case – chiefly because they had a broad range of reasons for attending the protest.
Some were happy to be there to make up the numbers, as a visible sign of protest. Chris, 33, said, “I wanted to show support at this event, because a large crowd sends a signal to the government that we want changes made to the CPF system.”
His views were echoed by speaker Vincent Wijeysingha, who opined that the strong turnout would “make the government very worried, wherever they may be.”
Others were there to show support for Roy Ngerng, or at least express displeasure for the lawsuit that the Prime Minister has taken up against him. “Roy made a mistake, but suing him is not the way,” opined Mr Abdul Salim, 33. “(Prime Minister) Lee Hsien Loong want Singapore to be a more open society, to have more trust in the government. Then he (needs to) tell the people what the facts are, instead of suing.”
But the content of the protest was not lost on some, who were present because they were interested in an alternative view of CPF. Mr Weng, 64, said, “I try to attend all the events at Hong Lim Park. I'm not for or against any party, I try to stay neutral. But I'm interested to know what (the speakers) can bring forward.”
Jackson, 30, who was there with his friends, said, “I want to hear what the speakers have to say about CPF, as I wanted another point of view.”
JQ, 29, shared similar sentiments. “I want to know more about CPF and support those who are against the Minimum Sum – among my friends, this seems to be a major concern.”
Indeed, the Minimum Sum – the base amount of funds that each CPF contributor has to set aside for when they reach 65 years-old, the balance of which they can withdraw when they reach 55 years-old – seems to be a main concern of many participants at the protest.
"The Minimum Sum is increasing every year,” said Jackson. “I don't think Singaporeans will be able to support this in the future."
Jackson was not the only young Singaporean who was concerned about the future viability of the Minimum Sum. “The majority of Singaporeans, (looking at) how much we earn now, will not be able to meet this amount,” offered JQ.
“I'm very concerned – a few years down the road, what will the Minimum Sum be?” shared Mr Abdul Salim. “Can I meet it, can I take it out?”
“I want to get my money back,” said Mr Weng. “The government should not lock up our money. I have 40% of my CPF locked up (in the Minumum Sum). I mean, I'm a retiree now, and I tried asking the CPF front office for it, but they didn't do anything.”
Ibrahim, 60, shared similar sentiments. “I am old enough to know how to spend my own money, so why does the government want to control my CPF? I want to use it to help support my daughter who is studying in Australia. I also need to spend some on my Hajj, as this is a very important religious obligation for me.”
“I tried speaking to my Member of Parliament, but he did not help. I'm not happy with it,” he added.
Despite these worries, concern for Roy Ngerng and the lawsuit he faces were evident among the protesters.
A mob followed him when he arrived, and his appearance on stage as the last speaker was met with wild cheers and calls of support. At the end of the event, a small crowd gathered at the stage to offer well-wishes and take pictures with him.