by Augustine Low

Lack of transparency and availability of data has long fuelled speculation on competition for jobs by new citizens.

There is also a persistent, niggling question over this issue: How significant are the electoral votes of new citizens to the ruling People’s Action Party government?

We know for a fact that in recent years, Singapore welcomes an average of just over 22,000 new citizens a year. Latest available figures show that there were 22,102 new citizens in 2016, 22,076 in 2017 and 22,550 in 2018.

Going by those numbers, we would have had around 110,000 new citizens in the past five years. How important a voting bloc were they in GE2020?

Conventional wisdom tells us that new citizens are predisposed to voting for the political party in power. It’s also common sense – gratitude is naturally bestowed to the party that accords the citizenship.

However, not much data is available for any concrete analysis. The government does not provide a breakdown on the new citizens’ country of origin or birth. Perhaps the opposition Members of Parliament could pile on the pressure for the government to provide such data. Or it is considered one of those state secrets?

Earlier this year, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo who oversees the National Population and Talent Division said that the government takes in a “carefully controlled number of new citizens each year to keep the citizen population stable over the long term.”

She also gave this assurance: “It is not easy to become a new citizen or PR. Many applications are rejected. We have high expectations of those who join our community.”

More data would be helpful for the Minister to make her case.

Two weeks ago, for example, the Ministry of Trade and Industry shot down speculation that under CECA, Indian nationals are given “automatic access” to citizenship and permanent residence.

But there were no accompanying details on how many who came to Singapore under CECA have applied for citizenship in recent years, and how many have been accorded citizenship.

This would have provided more clarity to put the issue to bed. This would also have addressed speculation that new citizens played a key role in the PAP winning East Coast GRC, where the margin of victory was only 7,781 votes.

The fact remains that the country currently takes in just over 22,000 new citizens a year. With at least 110,000 new citizens every five years, they could be a force to be reckoned with at the ballot box.

Granted that not every new citizen is eligible to vote and not every vote goes to the PAP. But the question of how significant their electoral votes are to the PAP is a lingering one.

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