Wednesday, September 26, 2007
SINGAPORE, Sept 6 Singaporeans have started a rare protest against the government's pension reform plans with an online petition and a planned public protest action. An online petition against the pensions reform had drawn nearly 600 online signatures as of Thursday, while on Saturday, activists will test Singapore's ban on demonstrations by staging a symbolic "black T-shirt" protest at a popular downtown mall. Any public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and any public gathering of more than four people requires a permit. The protest takes aim at plans to make it mandatory for all Singaporeans under the age of 50 to buy annuities and which would impose restrictions on how pension savings are invested. "People are quite unhappy, partly about way the announcements about the pension reforms were made," political commentator Leong Sze Hian told Reuters. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the pension reform in his National Day speech last month, saying there was no choice as "people are living longer". To cope with a rapidly ageing population, the government is upping the retirement age from 62 years to 65 years by 2015, and up to 67 beyond that. In recent weeks, government ministers have talked about several planned changes to the Central Provident Fund , a mandatory retirement savings scheme for all Singaporeans that pays a lump sum upon retirement and can be used to pay for flats. "There is concern, but the public ought to wait for more specific details on the changes, to be out later this month," Member of Parliament Halimah Yaacob told Reuters. Singaporeans have turned increasingly to cyberspace as an outlet for their dissatisfaction. The latest petition -- on Petitiononline.com -- has drawn 580 signatures over two weeks. In the past two years, petitions against a pay-and-perks scandal at a national charity and against the introduction of casino gambling drew thousands of signatures. Saturday's protest -- announced on political blogs and online forums -- is set to test Singapore's limits on freedom of assembly, as organisers merely suggest participants turn up at 4 p.m. at the Centrepoint mall, dressed "partly" in black. Law student and online activist Choo Zheng Xi told Reuters he does not expect a strong turn-out, as other small-scale protest actions in the past months have drawn a massive police presence as well as plainsclothes policemen filming protesters.