Member of Parliament (MP) Seah Kian Peng in a Facebook post on Saturday made a series of surprising allegations and insinuations against Singapore historian, Dr Thum Ping Tjin in relation to the meeting that Dr Thum had with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad earlier this week.
To better understand how Seah is making dangerous and unfounded allegations against Dr Thum and named individuals and political party in his Facebook post, we will look at his Facebook post bit by bit.
Insinuation 1: Thum invites PM Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore
Seah wrote: PJ Thum and friends ( including Kirsten Han, Sonny Liew, Jolovan Wham) meet DR M, invite Dr M to bring democracy to Singapore, and suggest that Singapore is part of Malaya.
PJ Thum, Kirsten Han, Jolovan Wham and Sonny Liew met with Dr Mahathir on Thursday. Dr Thum invited Dr Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore. I wonder what deep historical insight prompted him to make this plea, to Dr M, whose views on the Water Agreement with Singapore, and Singapore knowing its place in relation to Malaysia are well known.
Ms Kirsten Han in her blog response to Seah’s allegations on Dr Thum, wrote, “PJ did not say that he asked Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore, nor did I hear him say such a thing during the meeting.”
In Dr Thum’s Facebook post after the meeting with PM Mahathir, had written that he urged the PM to take leadership in Southeast Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information. It is bewildering how Seah interpreted it as Dr Thum inviting PM Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore.
Insinuation 2: Unusual greeting by Dr Thum that 31 Aug is Singapore’s unofficial independence day
Seah wrote: “PJ Thum went further the next day. On August 31, Malaysia’s “national day”, he posted an unusual greeting, “Selamat Hari Merdeka to the people of the former Federation of Malaya”, and suggested that Singaporeans should also rejoice on that day since it was Singapore’s “unofficial independence day”.”
Mr Seah is referring to the Facebook post of Dr Thum made on 31 Aug.
But guess what? Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, late Lee Kuan Yew declared 31 August as Singapore’s unofficial independence day.
As documented on Singapore’s official website,
“On 31 August 1963, then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew declared de facto independence for the island state ahead of the official proclamation of the Federation of Malaysia. The inauguration of Malaysia was originally slated to take place on 31 August 1963, but the federal government in Kuala Lumpur postponed it by about two weeks to 16 September in order to give the United Nations (UN) more time to complete its mission to determine whether the people in the Borneo territories of Sabah and Sarawak were in favour of being part of Malaysia. The UN mission was undertaken to allay the objections by both Indonesia and the Philippines to the formation of Malaysia.
A ceremonial rally was held on the steps of City Hall on 31 August to mark the occasion, and Lee made a speech where he pledged Singapore’s loyalty to the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. He stated that this loyalty “transcends party rivalries and petty personal differences” and was “an unalterable principle” to the unity and prosperity of Malaysia. In addition, Lee noted that declaring Singapore’s de facto independence was “an assertion of [its] right to freedom” and it signified the end of British colonial rule in Singapore.”
It is therefore disingenious of Seah to ignore this historical fact, labelling Dr Thum’s greeting as being unusual and insinuate that he was treating Singapore as part of Malaysia/Malaya in a current context and not a historical one.
Insinuation 3: Teo Soh Lung holds same values as Communist Party of Malaya
Seah wrote: “Separately, in a comment on a TOC video post, Teo Soh Lung said that “Singapore is part of Malaya la”.
Really? This is what PJ Thum and Teo Soh Lung and the SDP believe in their heart of hearts?
(Note she says “Malaya”, not “Malaysia”. This was what the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) maintained – that Malaysia was an imperialist plot, and Singapore’s separation and independence was a sham.)”
Mr Seah is referring to Ms Teo Soh Lung’s post made on 18 August on TOC’s live streaming of the forum in Johor, Malaysia. As seen below, the time stamp of the comment is at 17.08.
At the point of Ms Teo’s comment, Malaysian Activist Hishamuddin Rais said that prior to reform, the democratic space must first be preserved. He then referenced to Prof Thum’s statement that he wishes to see Singapore do a Singapore and not a Malaysia, Hisham to state that Singapore is part of the Malayan peninsula, which is a historical fact. Whether Singapore wants to be part of Malaysia or not, that is not the issue. Therefore, Ms Teo’s comment was in response to two points and not to one.
Ms Teo, who is a lawyer and former political detainee, had contested in the General Election in 2011 as a candidate from the Singapore Democratic Party. When contacted by TOC, Ms Teo said that she has left SDP some years ago.
Insinuation 3: More than coincidence that the group met together to meet with PM Mahathir
Seah wrote: “Is it also a coincidence that they had accompanied Tan Wah Piow on this visit to Dr M? Tan was convicted for rioting in 1975 and slipped out of Singapore upon his release from prison to avoid National Service. Several of Tan’s comrades from that time subsequently joined the CPM’s radio station, “Voice of the Malayan Revolution”, in Changsha, China.”
Ms Han in her blog noted that the individuals who met up with PM Mahathir did not attend this meeting as a collective, but as a group of individuals.
She wrote, “Wah Piow and Isham are both part of a group called Forces for the Renewal of Southeast Asia, and were planning to organise a conference on democracy in the region. They wanted Mahathir to give the keynote speech at this proposed conference, and so extended an invitation to him, which he accepted in principle, subject to his availability when the time comes. The rest of us are not part of Forces for the Renewal of Southeast Asia, nor are we involved in the organising of the conference. I can’t speak for Wah Piow or Isham, but my sense is that it’s highly unlikely this conference would be held in Singapore, since Wah Piow himself cannot enter the country.”
The communist insurgency which involved the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was resolved under PM Mahathir’s premiership in 1989 with the signing of the Peace Accord in Haadyai, Thailand on 2 December 1989. Singapore was not involved in the negotiation and therefore do not recognise the closure of the chapter.
Also, Tan Wah Piow till today, claims he was framed by former PAP MP and union leader, Phey Yew Kok who was convicted for 12 charges which he pleaded guilty to. This includes 10 counts of criminal breach of trust, one count of abetting the fabrication of false evidence to a public servant. He then escaped to London in 1976, fearing an accidental death in national service. His citizenship was revoked by the Singapore government under Section 135 (1) of the Singapore constitution in 1987, for living overseas continuously for over 10 years, a provision which was introduced only in 1985.
It is also disingenious of Seah to link Mr Tan and CPM by mentioning them together to draw a link between them. But it is also interesting at the same time as he did not mention that Mr Tan was the named mastermind for Operation Spectrum where Marxists wanted to overthrow the Singapore government in 1987.
Insinuation 4: Thum does not wish Singapore well
Seah wrote: “I’m amazed that Dr Thum and his supporters should proclaim that Singapore is part of Malaysia (or Malaya). Perhaps that is why he thinks it is permissible to ask its current prime minister to interfere in our affairs.
It appears quite clear to me that PJ Thum does not wish Singapore well. It is interesting that Kirsten, Jolovan and Sonny should associate themselves with Thum.”
On Seah’s allegation, Ms Han wrote,
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I’ve worked closely with PJ for two years now. I know him to be someone who thinks and cares deeply about Singapore and its people. I know him as someone who piles both work and risk on himself, for very little reward, because he is committed to this country. He was told that he would never work in Singapore as an academic again, but he’s still trying to come home permanently, because he wants to contribute to Singapore. I’d like to reassure Mr Seah here: in all the time that I’ve spent with PJ, I’ve never seen any indication or evidence that he wishes Singapore ill. (And this isn’t even mentioning him being the first Singaporean to swim the English Channel, leading Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to say: “Your adventurous spirit, boldness to take on a difficult challenge, and strength to carry it through are an inspiration to us all.”)
Mr Seah finds it “interesting” that I would associate myself with him. I find it to be a great honour and privilege to work with someone who cares so much. PM Lee was right; PJ is an inspiration.
Insinuation 5: Thum challenging the sovereignty of Singapore and susceptible to foriegn influence
Seah wrote: “Perhaps I should remind PJ Thum that our Constitution requires any change to the sovereignty of Singapore to be approved by two-thirds of all voters in a referendum. This requirement was put in by our founding leaders. As a result of our searing experience in the 23 months when we were part of Malaysia, they knew how important it was to safeguard our independence and sovereignty.
When moving this constitutional amendment in Parliament, our first Minister for Law, and the author of the Separation Agreement, Mr EW Barker, said that “in the methodology of the destruction of a nation by its foes, war by force of arms is not necessarily the only means employed. The independence of a nation may, by more subtle means, be subverted.”
He also said: “The seductive blandishments of foreign agents must not be allowed to succeed.”
Quite right and I am sure Singaporeans will agree with that.”
Seah’s allegations here are dangerous and outright irresponsible. He is insinuating that Dr Thum is challenging the sovereignty of Singapore and that he might be subjective to “blandishments of foreign agents.”
Based on the comments that accompany the Facebook post by Seah, calling that Thum is a traitor and calling for Internal Security Act to be used on the individuals, it is obvious that his post is nothing more than a dog-whistling tactic aiming to incite the population against individuals who have the best interest for their country but against the ruling party.
SDP: Attempt by Seah and PAP to divert the people’s attention
The Singapore Democratic Party made a clarification last night saying that Dr Thum and Ms Teo are not members of the SDP thus do not speak for the party or represent it in any way. “We did not have anything to do with the meeting nor did we say anything about the matter. We only learnt about Dr Thum’s the meeting with Dr Mahathir through reports in the media.”
In its response, it wrote, “Such a clumsy stunt to distract Singaporeans from the real issues is not going to work. The people see through the PAP’s silly antics. Mr Seah’s post only confirms the people’s suspicion that the PAP is desperate, out of ideas and frantically trying to distract the public from the problems they are facing.”
Reports by Mainstream Media
Soon after Mr Seah published his Facebook post, Mainstream Media, namely The Straits Times, Today, Channel News Asia and Lianhe Zaobao made their respective reports on their online platform. None of the platforms made any clarifications on the claims made by Mr Seah and regurgitated the post as it is. ST only included a paragraph of clarification from Ms Han while CNA included the clarification from SDP.
Seah on Select Committee for Deliberate Online Falsehoods
It is simply ironic that Seah sits on the Select Committee for Deliberate Online Falsehoods which has heard submissions earlier this year about the situation of “fake news” in Singapore and will be recommending measures to address the spread of misinformation to the government.
Throughout the hearings, the committee kept pushing the idea that the government needs to have the power to compel social media companies to take down posts which it deems to be “fake news” so as to stop misinformation before it causes any damages.
But as seen in this case – should the law on “fake news” be passed – what can the individuals involved do to address their allegation when a government official makes unfounded allegations against them and the mainstream media simply repeats the message as if for the purpose of amplifying the allegations? Or will it be like the Administration of Justice Act also known as the Contempt of Court bill that ministers and the government are exempted from spreading “fake news”?