Senior Parliamentary Secretary Tan Wu Meng and Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Wu Meng has come under fire for his remarks on Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh’s comments on “citizens who are loving critics”.
In an opinion piece on the People’s Action Party website on Friday (Jun 19), Dr Tan wrote that in saying that Singapore should feel fortunate to have citizens who are “loving critics”, it was “clear” that Mr Singh was referring to renowned playwright Alfian Sa’at even “without naming names”.
“There are many Singaporeans who criticise Singapore out of patriotism and genuine care, including opposition leaders like Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia Khiang.
“But Alfian Sa’at is no ‘loving critic’,” said Dr Tan, illustrating his point using several of Mr Alfian’s past Facebook posts.
Dr Tan went on to say that Mr Singh “may not have read all these things that Alfian has said”, and should thus “read them carefully, and then tell us if he still thinks Alfian is a “loving critic” of Singapore”.
“If he does, perhaps Mr Singh considers himself a ‘loving critic’ of Singapore too?” Dr Tan concluded.
Dr Tan told CNA in response to queries on Friday that it is crucial for “all of us to understand what Alfian stands for”, which, in his view, is taking “the side of Malaysia against Singapore on multiple occasions”.
“And so when the Leader of the Opposition endorses Alfian as a ‘loving critic’, it is important for all of us to understand what Alfian stands for, and to ask if that endorsement was an informed choice,” he said.
However, it should also be noted that veteran diplomat Tommy Koh last year branded Mr Alfian “a loving critic of Singapore” and “one of our most talented playwrights”.
In a Facebook post on 8 October, Prof Koh stressed that Alfian “is not anti-Singapore”.
He added that freedom of speech should not only be limited to views that concur with the establishment, but also those that are contrary to the government.
“I admire very much his plays, Cooling-Off Day and Hotel. It is of course true that some his writings are critical of Singapore. But, freedom of speech means the right to agree with the government as well as the right to disagree.
“I feel that I should defend him at this moment when he must feel discouraged and worried and friendless,” he added.
Separately in a dialogue session with Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait the same month, Prof Koh said that Singapore needs “loving critics and critical lovers”, not “sycophants”.
He argued that the contestation of ideas is a necessary part of democracy, and warned that “Singapore will languish if our lovers are uncritical and our critics are unloving”.
“Guided by this virtue, the Government should not have banned Tan Pin Pin’s film To Singapore, With Love. It should not have withdrawn the book grants from Sonny Liew and Jeremy Tiang,” he said.
“Bad form” to use “roundabout way” of attacking an opposition MP: Alfian Sa’at
Mr Alfian in a Facebook post on Friday said that it is “bad form” to attack him as a way to attack a member of an opposition party.
“I just don’t understand this roundabout way of attacking an opposition Member of Parliament. Were those statements about Malaysia made by that opposition party member? No. Has that opposition party member specifically endorsed or agreed with any of these statements I have made? No. Is there anything in the manifesto of that opposition party that echoes these statements? No,” He said.
Mr Alfian argued that attacking an opposition party in such a manner signals that “their party manifesto and their policy proposals are so perfect and unassailable that you have to actually resort to this”.
Touching on the assertion that he is anti-Singapore and pro-Malaysia, Mr Alfian said that patriotism in Singapore appears to take “a form of Singaporean nationalism” that is premised on “a sense of superiority” bordering on “contempt and hatred for our neighbouring countries”, he added.
“So over the years, I have made comments–not just on Facebook, but also on forums and interviews–where I would try to offer alternative–meaning positive–meaning sometimes even rhapsodic–views of Malaysia,” he continued.
There have, however, been “many other instances” where he demonstrated critical views against Malaysia, said Mr Alfian.
“In fact, I have written an entire play called ‘Parah’ (Wounded), which is deeply critical of the toxic racial politics in Malaysia,” he said, while urging the public to read the play “to see an alternative portrayal of this supposed ‘Malaysia-loving Alfian’”.
Tan Wu Meng’s opinion-piece a form of “character assassination”, demonstrates low calibre, netizens say
Many commenters felt that Dr Tan’s opinion piece on the PAP website was a form of “character assassination” and demonstrates low calibre on his part.
Politicians of the ruling party, they said, could do better with allowing a diversity of viewpoints beyond that of the establishment, and to focus on bringing the nation forward in times of a crisis as severe as the COVID-19 pandemic.
One commenter pointed out a microaggression in Dr Tan’s opinion piece on Mr Alfian being able to obtain “an education and a living that is denied to many minorities in the region”.
“So much for Justice and equality in the national pledge, when DR Tan talks about the Minorities here … It is the government’s duty to provide education and a living to all citizens regardless of their race,” said Siva Ram.
Several commenters questioned the timing of Dr Tan’s opinion piece and even said that they were unaware of who he was prior to the present debacle.
“Chinese male politician from the ruling party mudslinging at a renowned Malay artist (also a citizen) and an Indian Secretary-General of the opposition party #singaporepolitics #firstworld”, quipped one commenter.
Singaporean editor Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh on Friday similarly remarked that “a Chinese politician attacking an Indian politician and a Malay artist with allusions to treachery is, if nothing else, political suicide in today’s volatile, BLM [Black Lives Matter] world”.
In a scathing commentary on the fiasco, Mr Vadaketh said: “I do wonder if this doctor, consigned to the PAP back-benches and a faceless lemming among the medical fraternity, was also sparked into rabid action by his own self-loathing, his own midcareer regrets about failed ambitions. One last, flailing effort to show he can outgun Ong Ye Kung?”
Noting that diplomats and politicians of other nations “write commentaries in leading publications”, Mr Vadaketh said that “many Singaporean diplomats and politicians don’t bother because they are just not good enough”, in his experience as an editor.
“There is a reason that in Singapore intellectual midgets rely on party websites, the government’s right-of-reply to newspapers, and other partisan platforms, including Singapore’s own mainstream media, to spread their vile nonsense. It is because otherwise nobody would hear them,” he said.