Logo of Straits Times and photo of Lim Yan Liang, author of the article on Dr Paul's comment

Did ST’s Lim Yan Liang run a hatchet job on SDP, misrepresenting Dr Paul Tambyah’s words?

An article by Lim Yan Liang, a reporter at Straits Times (ST) wrote “The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) yesterday said it did not believe in attacks on character, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remarked that its chief Chee Soon Juan’s character “had not changed”.”

The heading masterfully linked SDP’s comment on character and PM Lee’s remarks on Dr Chee’s character as if they were addressing the same point.

The report pointed to a video posted by SDP, featuring an interview with Central Executive Committee of SDP, Dr Paul Tambyah on his statement about keeping the campaign clean and fair, focusing on the issues.

“On nomination day, DPM Tharman met me and we both agreed that we would keep the campaign clean and fair, and focused on issues.

That is the way the SDP will keep running this campaign for the coming week.

We believe that you can criticise what a person says or what a person does, but don’t attack the person.

We believe that it is fair to ask what happened to the plans that Mr David Ong promised, the hawker centre that was supposed to be coming up but it is not right to question his character.

Similarly, it is ok to criticise Dr Chee for asking PM Goh about Singapore’s promise to President Suharto 15 years ago but attacking his character is uncalled for.

A person is not defined by his or her actions or words.

In my own field, a person is not defined by their disease. For example, you are not a diabetic or a dengue patient. But you are a husband, a father, a wife, a son, a mother, a daughter who happen to have diabetes or dengue.

Both Mr Murali and Dr Chee are someone’s son, someone’s husband, someone’s father. We need to debate the issues, not engage in character assassination.

The SDP put up out our policy paper for public debate many years ago, beginning with the healthcare policy in 2012, and including our town council policy. We would like them to be debated fully.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, perhaps he may have been misled by the (Lianhe) Wan Bao (联合晚报) which have admitted to us that they made a mistake in their transcription and in the headline that they put up. They have since apologised to us. They have amended the online version of the article and they have promised us that they would do something to correct the error.

To restate our point, we feel you can criticise the speech, you can criticise the actions, you can criticise the policy but not the man.

To give you another example, in this past year, at the institute of policy studies, I pointed out that I disagreed with our Prime Minister when he said that Singaporeans were not as smart as Israelis.

I shared that Singaporeans are smarter than Israelis, at least we know how to live in peace with our neighbours.

But neither me nor any one from SDP would use the same kind of language to criticise the Prime Minister of the director of the neuroscience institute

We do not believe again in character assassination or in attacking the character of the individual. We want this to be a debate about the issues, issues that matter to the residents of Bukit Batok.

Let’s have a clean and fair election about things that really matter and let’s make Bukit Batok the best town in the whole of Singapore.”

It is clear from the speech that Dr Tambyah was referring to Mr David Ong when he said, “it is not right to question his character” and that “A person is not defined by his or her actions or words” was meant to apply to both, Mr Ong and Dr Chee.

However, ST in its report, mixed up the quotes and presented the wordings as if Dr Tambyah’s statement was specifically meant to address criticism directed at Dr Chee by PM Lee, instead of acknowledging that it was a call for a clean and fair election.


Finance Minister, Heng Swee Keat took issue with the statement by Dr Tambyah, and wrote on his facebook account without knowing that he was actually chastising his former colleague, David Ong with his remarks.

“I read with dismay Prof Paul Tambyah’s statement yesterday claiming that character doesn’t matter.

“A person,” he declared, “is not defined by his or her actions or words.”

This has to be one of the most astounding statements ever made in the history of Singapore politics.
This means a person can lie, cheat or betray someone with impunity.

Prof Tambyah and his colleagues believe character doesn’t matter, a person’s words are irrelevant, and we should ignore their actions. They believe they should be allowed to do or say anything and not be held responsible for their actions or words.

How are voters to believe what such politicians say, or hold them accountable for their actions if they were running a town council?”

Nevertheless, ST reported Mr Heng’s comment on Dr Tambyah and went ahead to quote Dr Tambyah’s words in his rally speech as if Dr Tambyah acknowledges what Mr Heng wrote about the quote was factual.

Fabrication about the PAP,  PAP’s online brigade that smears alternative parties and civil-activities jumped on the bandwagon and started a campaign using the quotes that were out of context.

So did ST run a hatchet job on SDP on behest of their master? No one knows, except for themselves.