The particular political landscape in Singapore has seen us (whether rightly or wrongly) impose higher standards on our opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) than those from the incumbent Peoples’ Action Party (PAP). While unfair, this standard is hardly surprising. For those who have voted for the opposition, they do implicitly feel that they have put their neck on the line to put them in power and as such, they have higher standards to live up to.
There is also the implied belief that because it is harder to be successful as an opposition politician that if you do manage to win the election, you should be better than the PAP MP. While understandable, I would like to say that it is my personal opinion that this is an emotional reaction which may be unjust.
The recommendations published by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods have been a bit of a mixed bag. Certain recommendations raised by it such as the use of legislation to combat fake news run the risk of being misused and are concerning. That said, were the recommendations really a surprise?
I did not agree with the way historian Thum Ping Tjin was interrogated during the course of the hearings. I did think it was bullying and I did think he was singled out. It made me lose a certain degree of respect for the way the proceedings were being carried out. Whether or not the committee agreed with Thum’s portrayal of history, it is wrong to give his opinion no weight just because there was confusion about his role within Oxford University. The two issues are mutually exclusive and conflating the two made me question the reasoning of the Select Committee on this issue. Just because he called himself “Research Fellow” as opposed to “Visiting Scholar” makes absolutely no different to his academic views on history and its portrayal. It is important to note that Oxford professors have defended Thum’s views. If the Select Committee disagreed, they could have agreed to disagree. To disregard Thum is reactionary and wrong.
I note that leader of the Workers’ Party Pritam Singh has been asked on his views of Thum’s bullying. While Thum was clearly singled out and bullied, I fear that we might be doing the same thing by singling out Singh for his opinion. I understand the temptation to hold him to a higher standard of “virtue” because he is not part of the PAP. But is that fair?
There are precious few WP MPs among a sea of white in Parliament. They are therefore always under pressure to fight harder and better. Yes of course I wish that Singh could have come out all guns blazing in defense of Thum but given the precarious position Singh is in (being the only opposition MP in the Select Committee), I would cut Singh some slack. Just as we don’t agree with Thum being singled out, we should not by the same vein single Singh out.