SINGAPORE: The opinion piece written by Senior Parliamentary Secretary Tan Wu Meng on the support apparently offered by the Workers’ Party’s Pritam Singh to playwright Alfian Sa’at was “serious” and “thoughtful”, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Sunday (Jun 21).
The piece by Dr Tan, which focused on Mr Singh's comments made in Parliament earlier this month about "citizens who are loving critics", was published on the People’s Action Party (PAP) website on Friday.
Dr Tan said the opposition leader had spoken "in support" of Mr Alfian, who he said “consistently praised Malaysia to illustrate his disdain for Singapore". Mr Singh did not name Mr Alfian in his comments in Parliament.
Weighing in on the matter on the sidelines of a walkabout in Nee Soon GRC where he is an MP, Mr Shanmugam said: “Dr Tan Wu Meng’s post is a very serious post. It’s a very thoughtful post. I think the point may be missed quite easily.”
Dr Tan laid out what Mr Alfian had said, and did not make anything up, Mr Shanmugam said, according to a transcript of his comments which was made available to CNA.
“In summary, one can say Mr Alfian Sa’at’s position is that he would like Singapore to merge with Malaysia, and he thinks that the Chinese are being wrong in not wanting a merger. He dislikes Mr Lee Kuan Yew intensely and he loves Dr Mahathir. And he takes Malaysia’s side,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam added that when Malaysian Government vessels were in Singapore waters in a very tense stand-off on territorial issues, Mr Alfian took Malaysia’s side and said that Singaporeans are jingoistic, referring to a Facebook post by Mr Alfian.
“This is a free country, he (Alfian) is entitled to his views. And I think most Singaporeans know him for what he is. That doesn’t call for any comment. Mr Sa’at is irrelevant in this issue to that extent,” he said.
QUESTIONING WHICH SIDE MR SINGH IS ON
He added: "But when Mr Pritam Singh, as leader of the Opposition, stands up in Parliament and supports Mr Alfian Sa’at and says he is a loving critic of Singapore, then I think we are entitled to ask in a healthy democracy, which side do you stand on?”
He compared Mr Singh to former Workers’ Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang: “We may disagree on policies within Singapore, as Singaporeans, what is better for Singaporeans. Workers’ Party can take one issue, we might take another issue, we may take different positions. But politics stops at the boundary. You never take another country’s side against Singapore,” he said.
Dr Tan’s note said that “this is what Mr Low and the Workers’ Party used to be like, does that continue to be the position?” said Mr Shanmugam.
READ: Yale-NUS underlines commitment to academic freedom after cancellation of course on dissent in Singapore
Dr Tan gave Mr Singh the “benefit of the doubt” by asking if he had read Mr Alfian’s posts before he said that the playwright is a "loving critic" of Singapore, said Mr Shanmugam.
“Mr Singh has put up something which seems to suggest that you know, no one is perfect, which means he seems to accept that Alfian’s posts do mean what they, what Dr Tan said, but he doesn’t make clear his position, whether he knew what Alfian had said,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam was referring to Mr Singh’s post on Facebook, in which he shared Dr Tan’s opinion piece. In it, Mr Singh wrote: “A loving critic. A son of Singapore. Not perfect. As imperfect as you and me, Dr Tan, maybe more, maybe less.”
“All that Dr Tan did was set out in a post what Alfian had said and asked, you know, if you knew about this when you supported him in Parliament? There was nothing about Mr Pritam Singh’s character, there was nothing about attacking Mr Pritam Singh. It was a legitimate question,” Mr Shanmugam said.
ALMOST "PAVLOVIAN RESPONSE" FROM ONE GROUP
While a “vast majority” of people read Dr Tan’s piece and understood it, Mr Shanmugam said what surprised him was the “almost a Pavlovian response” by a small group of people. A Pavlovian response typically refers to a response that comes from training by repetitive action.
Mr Shanmugam described the response of this group: “Oh, this is character assassination! This is attack, bullying tactics.
“You know, every day, PAP MPs and PAP ministers are attacked. They are called 'shameless lot', and 'you are this, you are that',” he said, addressing personal attacks which he said are “untrue and unfair”. Mr Shanmugam called this “gutter politics”.
“These people who now rise up to complain about Dr Tan Wu Meng never breathed a word about that,” he said.
“When somebody on the Government side raises a question: 'oh, it’s gutter politics'. It’s sheer hypocrisy,” he said.
“PAP says anything, when the Government says anything, it must be wrong. It’s unfair. I think people ought to be more honest. Go and look at the post,” he said.
They should read what Dr Tan said, and ask themselves whether he is entitled to raise this question, and deal with it rather than attack him, Mr Shanmugam added.
“Which character has been assassinated in this process? What did Dr Tan say? He just sets out what Alfian says and he says to Mr Singh, did you know about this?” he asked.
There is also a separate group of people he described as “middle-of-the-road, honest, reasonable people".
"Either because they didn’t read the post, they just read what other people said about it, (they) got the impression that something wrong has been said or Dr Tan has attacked," he said.
“I can understand. If you don’t read the post and just read what other people say, you will make that mistake. And there are others, legitimately, who after having read Dr Tan’s post, nevertheless feel, why does he have to say this,” he added.
“I can understand that. There are people who would react that way. That’s legitimate. In a free society, you are entitled to take that view too.”