Crowd numbers at population protest

I see that many people on social media have pointed out the large discrepancies in reports of crowd size at yesterday’s protest against the Population White Paper. Variations in estimates always accompany any outdoor event unless it’s a ticketed one.

My earlier article quoted the organisers’ figure of 4,000 to 5,000, a figure they announced at least twice during the rally itself. My own calculations — which I completed only after publishing the earlier article indicate that 3,000 to 4,000 may be more accurate.

Here’s a Facebook mention of 5,000 by the emcee of the event:


They may well be right because estimating crowd size is more art than science. But here I am going to show you how I arrived at my own figure.


First, I used a satellite image of Hong Lim Park from Google maps. That’s the image above. You will see at the bottom left corner that Google provides a scale. Just in case Google’s scale is a bit off, I also looked up OneMap’s map of Hong Lim Park. It is shown below:


I have no reason to doubt the scale. Both maps show the lawn area of Hong Lim Park — bound by the inner foot path — to be about 65 metres square, with one corner eaten up by the community club’s stage.

During the rally itself, I moved around a fair bit, from the front of the crowd to the back and up the overhead bridge across New Bridge Road (far left of maps), observing the approximate density at several points. I also took a number of photographs so that I have a record of density. Two examples are below.

Photograph A (which you can click on to enlarge) was taken close to the metro station exit. It shows the back of the crowd. The footpath is visible. The tent where the rally speakers were is away to the left of the photograph. In fact you can see a gradient:  the umbrellas are denser at the left of the photo (nearer the tent) than at the right edge. In the background is the community club stage, but don’t be mistaken, the people there are not the organisers and speakers; they are the audience, taking shelter from the drizzle.  There are about 100 of them on the community club stage.

At the top left of the photo you will see a smaller group on the balcony of the community club. I reckon there are about 30 persons there.


From photo A, my estimate is that at the back of the crowd, the density is about 0.7 persons per square metre. That is, there are about 2 persons for every 3 square metres.

Photograph B (which you can also click to enlarge) is taken about 10 metres from the front of the tent.


Here, people are standing more or less shoulder to shoulder, but spaced about arm’s length from the person in front. This gives a density of about 1.5 persons per square metre, that is, about three persons for every two square metres.

The graphic below has various boxes laid over the Google map of Hong Lim Park lawn, coloured for their density. The locations of photographs A and B are marked too. The location of the speakers’ tent is outlined in blue.


The calculation below is so simple and obvious, a Primary 6 pupil can do it.


Naturally, estimating crowd size cannot be achieved with total precision. Moreover, people were coming and going (especially as the drizzle waxed and waned), so an estimate can vary depending on when the estimate is made.

One could even say that because of the coming and going, the number present at any given time is not the total who came by and spent some time at the rally.

But an exact count is not necessary. The crowd is quite evidently a sizable one, and considering that the climate of fear is not yet completely dispelled, it would be foolish to dismiss the significance of the event.

34 Responses to “Crowd numbers at population protest”

  1. 1 Simon 17 February 2013 at 15:44

    Numbers… And more numbers… Why are we so obsess with them? Is it to justify the success rate? Or to prove a point? Be it 3000, 4000 or 5000, does it really matters? Do you think they will sit up and listen? Or continue to live in La la land? Anyway, I have to give it to Alex for taking his time to calculate and always presenting an unbiased figure instead of those from MSM who is always showing lopsided statistics to achieve their master’s objective.

    • 2 George 18 February 2013 at 14:28

      Numbers certainly do count, esp. at HLP, since it does require making that special effort to go there, even if the MRT is so convenient. Everybody knows that the typical headcounts of most gatherings at HLP have been in the hundreds, in fact, only a couple of hundreds. So a headcount in the thousands is VERY significant IMO. So the number of people present is indicative of how widespread or otherwise is the feeling against the projected 6.9 million ‘worst case’ foreigners’ presence, in our midst.

      Unless, one is poorly read, this is not unique to Singapore or
      Singaporeans, it is the same elsewhere. That is the reason why the govt of other countries admit migrants in a highly and tightly controlled process and manner, in order not to unduly upset their own people, except perhaps, for the Singapore govt. Continued voters support at the ballot box is an important, inescapable and undeniable factor for consideration of any govt of the day worthy of the name (again, perhaps with the exception of the Singapore govt).

      Perhaps, in future protests of this nature, the organizers may want to consider asking for a show of hands of the constituencies/wards represented at an event!? Personally, I think this would be an interesting revelation of sorts.

  2. 3 Lye Khuen Way 17 February 2013 at 15:53

    Whether it was 4,000 or 5,000 , as mentioned, IT is significant considering the climate of fear that is still hanging in the air.

    That was why I consider this 16th Feb to be an important date in our fledgling democratic country history. What is more, Feb 15th is the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army.

  3. 4 William 17 February 2013 at 16:36

    This is significant because prior events at Hong Lim Park have always had a much lower turnout (at most a few hundreds) and are perceived to be of niche interest to most.

    • 5 walkie talkie 17 February 2013 at 22:11

      Not always – as there is one event that has a more than double the size of the anti-White Paper event, and that is Pink Dot, an event that promotes the freedom of love for everyone, especially so for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals in our society.

      • 6 William 18 February 2013 at 02:35

        Okay, I didn’t know that it had a higher turnout, but with all due respect I would still consider LGBT issues a niche interest.

  4. 7 Singaporean 17 February 2013 at 17:07

    I always have this concern of civil servants exposing themselves to be anti-pap. I think at this point of time, it’s better to be annoynmous. For those in the civil service, like it or not they might blacklist you and prevent you from promotion to the super scale or first or second rank whereby you get access to important document. Bid your time slowly and when oppositions come to power, the civil servents who care for people can help the new party to manage the civil service. I have this intuition that they purposely allow this protest to proceed so that they can identify those they deem a threat. Just a thought.

      • 9 eremarf 20 February 2013 at 19:16

        Yes, and this affects not just civil servants but everyone.

        Look at the hoohah in the US over privacy and state surveillance (aren’t they deploying Predator UAVs for police work soon?). Americans are worried because activism often runs up against the establishment and elites (can be gov’t, civil service, political parties, big business, etc). And as a result labour activists, Occupy movement activists, organisers, etc risk systematic discrimination and worse from the establishment. Look at their overly tough laws on hacking (c.f. Aaron Swartz). Look at their laws on “homeland security” and how they handle “terrorists”. (Then look at how they handle banks like HSBC who launder money for terrorists and drug cartels.)

        We must never let too much power reside in one source.

        Right now, our government still seems relatively benign. Shane Todd might have been murdered or not, by industrial or national interests or not, but Singaporeans don’t seem to be getting “disappeared” for activism anymore. The worst they do nowadays is send legal letters.

        But don’t take this for granted. Calls to dismantle the ISA, ISD, to free the press, to remember our political martyrs, are not people eating finish nothing better do.

        The Singapore government can turn very nasty if they really want to. Who’s gonna stop them? Who’s gonna stop them when they come for you?

  5. 10 There Was No Free Chicken Rice 17 February 2013 at 17:39

    A salute to Alex for original investigative journalism.
    Shit Times, please take notes before you sell your “content” overseas.

    No free chicken rice was offered to the Singaporeans who showed up.
    No free buses shuttled them from their neighbourhood community centres to Hong Lim Park.

    So yes.
    4,000 Singaporeans converging on Hong Lim Park on a Saturday is noteworthy.

  6. 11 Yeow Siew to PAP 17 February 2013 at 17:59

    Very scientific logical methodology……I agree there were abt 3-4,000 people at the rally.
    I hope there is a follow-up in the near future should the PAP turn a deaf ear to yesterday’s historic event.

  7. 12 Paul Peters 17 February 2013 at 20:20

    There are different ways of measurement BUT I prefer to use relativity.

    If you compare that to a PAP rally, the PAP was/were obscenely disappointing. of course Old Man lee would have said, “SO far, people got nothing better to do than to come for an evening entertainment”. Of course that was valid before GE2011, so Old Man Lee should spend his last days thinking what pains he will undergo before he is called home. I have seen peoploe passing onb, some die peacefully without pain, many die with pain and their bodies are so disfigured.

    So for a peaceful Speakers Corner-type rally, this Anti-White Paper is commendable. Of course, at any one point in time, there could be 2-3K.

    I have seen Workers Party,. Now thats mammoth crowd size.

    I could not care whether the PAP heed the call of Singaporeans. I dont wish to place any hopes that PAP can do somehting. All I know that come GE 2016, I will fix the PAP.

  8. 13 Eric 17 February 2013 at 21:04

    16 Feb will go down in Singapore’s history as a significant milestone; the people had finally found their voice to speak publicly without fear! Majulah Singapura!!

  9. 14 Lim Bt 17 February 2013 at 22:01

    The numbers matter. It is significant because it is a breakthrough as far as protest in Singapore is concerned. Breakthrough in terms of overcoming the initial fear on protest. And this protest is against a government White Paper which will become a policy.
    So with this breakthrough hope we can see more Singaporeans coming forward to stand up for their rights and not be keyboard warriors.

  10. 15 NO to growing population further 18 February 2013 at 02:25

    I had a tight schedule on that day but I managed to squeeze sometime to be there just to show my support. While I was there, the whole field was filled with people and the emcee announced that the crowd size estimated to be about 5000. I looked around and I have no doubt about that.

  11. 16 Duh 18 February 2013 at 03:25

    Whatever the estimation is, it is definitely more than that reported by the Straits Times (i.e., more than 1k) or CNA (2k).

    The MSM journalists with integrity should just resign – really. Having worked in the Singapore’s MSM is more of a liability than an asset in a journalist’s CV.

    See the news reporting in HK’s newspaper:

    Almost every other news source (e.g., Reuters) have reported in the thousands. ST is simply blatant and shameless in its perpetual support for the PAP to censor news accordingly. Totally lacking in journalistic integrity.

    Working in ST makes other journalists from other developed countries look down on you because it shows that your journalistic integrity is for sale.

  12. 17 Paul Peters 18 February 2013 at 13:52

    How about the crowd size of LKY’s funeral?

  13. 18 Jianxian 18 February 2013 at 14:41

    I think crowd numbers are useful insofar as to indicate the following

    1. Repression felt by Singaporeans
    2. How strongly Singaporeans feel about the issue at hand
    3. Actual physical limitations of the venue (Ease of access, physical area, sound system, visibility of the speaker etc)

    But for me, the greatest significance of the crowd number is to indicate:

    4. The pathetic nature of the local media.

    Sure, you don’t have eyes on the ground to confirm numbers. Sure the police didn’t count numbers for the event. Doesn’t mean you have to put emphasis on it, say it’s an estimate and move on. Furthermore, if you are REALLY diligent and do real JOURNALISM, you might want to remedy the first, not having eyes on the ground part by, have a correspondent on the ground to confirm the numbers, or do what Alex did and, I don’t know, count?

    Frankly, local media just serves to disgust me.

  14. 20 George 18 February 2013 at 15:30


    Thanks for confirming that my ‘quick and dirty’ estimation of 5,000 in response to your post just before this present one, is within your ballpark figure.

    However, unless there are grids pre-drawn on the lawn on which you have relied on (like how the bacteriologist does his plate count on his petri dish!), it would still be a guesstimate notwithstanding the pains taken to superimpose three different densities, (admittedly my own ‘methodology’ of assigning a theoretical 3 ft X 3 ft space per person is largely theoretical.)

  15. 21 Anon j90H 18 February 2013 at 15:51

    Should you include those who came and left due to the inclement weather, a fair estimate would likely be some 5k who attended.

  16. 22 Jentrified Citizen 18 February 2013 at 21:13

    If you consider crowd movement of people who come and go, the numbers will be higher. nonetheless whether it was 3,000 or 5,000 it was a sizeable crowd for a rainy day for a protest organised online with zero publicity from local media. The protest was a significant milestone in our history.

  17. 23 John Goh 19 February 2013 at 08:31

    Should we build another causeway at the east side of Singapore to help the old age to retire there, to lower their cost of living? For younger couple to procreate there, at lower cost?

    Increase the co- operations between Singapore and Malaysia, Singaporean can go to a bigger area to relax during their free time, instead of crowding the city, which is very overcrowded during the peak hours, reduce traffic congestions etc.

    As heavy influx of foreign workers make singapore very congested and overcrowded already?

    With the increase in population there will be more extreme overcrowding?

    For many older workers, jobs will be lost to the younger foreigners or new citizen, which could cost huge social problems later, and deepen the old age crisis and deepen the low birthrate crisis?

    More people you need more more facilities and more difficult to manage, how to improve their living standard, with more demands in the same area and facilities?

  18. 24 John Goh 19 February 2013 at 08:49

    Need to float the ideas around the world, to gather suggestions on how to develop the local population, without importing large quantity of people, high quality of limited people who can improve the quality of life of old people and the standard of living of the lower wages worker, should be come to settle in Singapore?

    • 25 George 19 February 2013 at 16:25

      I suspect the underlying real issue has a lot to do with what is the PAP govt’s perceived GDP growth end-point or limit?

      At the moment it would seem like there is no end-point because of belief in the PAP govt that constant GDP growth, i.e., current year GDP growth must be a percentage point ABOVE last year’s growth, is necessary just to remain running on the spot in a GDP treadmill.

      A consistently high but ‘flatline’ growth, i.e., maintaining/re-producing the same performance level year after year, a plateau, is synonymous with stagnation, regression and decline. That seems to be a world wide 1st world capitalist phenomenon. I am no economist, but in these days and age of fast diminishing global resources shouldn’t there be a rethink by the “experts”? But, surely defending a certain level of achieved economic progress or standard of living in a country is not irreconcilable with making the same level of growth as last year, the year before that and the year before that and the year before that…? Why must it always be more and more and more? Would a country’s economy grind to a halt simply because they are not producing increasing more, year after year? Is that in fact sustainable? Moot?

      • 26 eremarf 20 February 2013 at 19:38

        Hi George

        Glad to see people thinking along the same lines as myself.

        I think people need to reframe things from a “happiness” (rather than more commonly, a $-value) perspective. It’s not as iffy as you think it is, really. For example, Bruno Frey has been putting out some empirical research on how economic policies affect happiness (rather than $-values). I’m trying to (find the time to) get my hands and head around that stuff – there’re papers publicly available if you just google – but finding time is hard.

        I think you’ll also like reading The Archdruid Report (US blog). He’s got a bunch of good articles and actively commenting readership on this theme among others.

        Just sharing info because I think a big part of this battle is in shaping the discourse. If we don’t speak up – we’re just letting the established vested interests guide everyone’s perceptions.

        Cheers and good luck with stuff. If I ever educate myself sufficiently to comment more usefully I will be sure to share my views on the Singapore blogosphere with you guys.

  19. 27 Sam 19 February 2013 at 09:23

    I wonder what the crowd size would be like if the WP had given word to its supporters to attend the protest. You might have gotten a crowd of 10,0000 to 20,0000. That would really have given the government a headache. But the WP probably felt that their work is already done in parliament, washed their hands and not want to get involved in the White Paper protest.

    • 28 V 19 February 2013 at 15:08

      It’s a pity really. I feel that if WP had even turned up at the event to stand with us, it would’ve given a lot more “official” legitimacy to to the protest (not that it isn’t legitimate, of course).

      The people are crying out for leadership in more than just parliamentary votes.

  20. 30 KAM 19 February 2013 at 17:26

    What’s 5000 when he has at least 1 million new voices?
    Alex, you should change your previous post to “3000-4000” and not Five Thousand….Sensationalisation of news is a big no no to you, right?

  21. 31 CC 19 February 2013 at 18:24

    4000 or 5000 may be encouraging, but will this one-off protest work?
    Highly unlikely. As The Economist puts it, the Prime Minister job is safe, the foreign investments are safe. The only unsafe and unsaved, are the sheeple.

  22. 32 John Goh 20 February 2013 at 15:55

    In the late 90s and after 2000s, Singapore manufacturing continued to hollowing out, and moved to cheaper China? In 2006 Singapore decided to agreed to 2 Integrated Resorts as Singapore faced many recessions in a short period? $16 billions of foreign funds were pumped in the economy and rejuvenate it?

    So Singapore got face a difficult choice, to agreed to the $16 billions casino cum tourism attractions and restructured to transform it from a low cost manufacturing foreign investments dependent to a service industry?

    Singapore needed to continue to find ways to reduce the negative impact of casinos?

    Half of the cabinets were against the casinos, which we could pay a heavy social cost, but Singapore has not much choice at that time?

    Singapore got to continue to seek ways to improve its service and tourism industries, to continue attract more tourists, higher value tourists spending and continue to reinvent itself, upgrade its infrastructures and train and upgrade its workers to multi-taskers and multi-skills workers to face future challenges?

    To move its lower wage workers to higher wages and higher standards of living, lower the income gaps, Singapore needs to develops more patents, invention, best selling products and services and massive scheme to develop its own SME?

    Some of the small populations, highly successful, high living standards & high birthrate countries able to produce successful multi-national companies with its continues inventions and innovations? Many of its local heros are nobel award winners and Olympic champions. Due to its continue invest in its local populations?

  23. 34 John Goh 22 February 2013 at 18:33

    How multi-parties parliaments in Nordic countries brought to the huge success of the countries, include many world class companies, high standard of living, high birth rate, low inequality, low wage gap, Olympic champions, Nobel prize winners many world class inventions etc?

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