Singaporean author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh earlier wrote an opinion piece for the South China Morning Post (SCMP) titled “Is electioneering to blame for Singapore’s teetering pandemic response?” which was published on 5 May.
Mr Vadaketh said in the article that some people believe that “political opportunism” distracted the nation’s leaders from crisis management, which has resulted in the massive outbreak of the COVID-19 virus among the migrant worker population here.
In response to his article, Singapore’s consul-general in Hong Kong Foo Teow Lee said in a letter published on SCMP on Tuesday (12 May) that she opposes Mr Vadaketh’s view that the Singapore government has prioritised electioneering during the pandemic, saying that the government has been focused on fighting the pandemic since the beginning.
Today (15 March), a pro-PAP fanpage on named FLOPSingapore which stands for Fabrications Led by Opposition Parties, shared Ms Foo’s letter. The post also included an image of Mr Vadaketh’s face next to a quote from Ms Foo’s letter which said: “Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh (SCMP writer) asks “Is electioneering to blame for Singapore’s teetering pandemic response?” (May 5). But it is quite clear that Mr Vadaketh, a Singapore national, is pushing a particular point of view meant to influence Singapore’s domestic politics, rather than writing for an international audience.”
Following Ms Foo’s letter, Mr Vadaketh sent an open letter to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) and Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Masagos Zulkifli “in good faith” to request if he would issue a “reminder to all politicians of all parties about the dangers of pandemic politicking”.
Mr Vadeketh said that this would be the last piece he intends to write on “pandemic politicking”.
Sharing this letter on his Facebook page on Wednesday (13 May), Mr Vadaketh noted, “I do believe this is an issue of global and national importance as it concerns our lives, and I also know that most people in the media here, for their own legitimate or wonky reasons, will not talk about it. So I will. “
He added that while he knows many think he is wasting his time by writing to his minister for specific action, he believes in the sanctity of civil discourse and democratic process.
In the letter, Mr Vadaketh noted that certain politicking behaviour amongst all political parties have worried him tremendously.
“If they are not curtailed, I fear that they will pose a grave threat to Singaporean lives and our country’s overall pandemic response,” he lamented.
He went on to highlight several instances of “potentially risky pandemic politicking”, which he has included in a blog post on his website. One such example was when PAP’s Chia Shi-Lu, Member of Parliament of Tanjong Pagar GRC, visited a food centre in her constituency on 12 April, only six days after Singapore enacted its circuit breaker measures. The politician had called it an “education thing”.
The other example Mr Vadaketh highlighted was Manpower Minister Josephine Teo’s visit to new residents in a new constituency just days before the first major migrant worker dormitory cluster emerged.
Mr Vadaketh said in his letter, “I shudder to think of how those signals might have, consciously or not, affected the behaviour of ordinary Singaporeans.”
“Might Chia’s behaviour have indicated that it is alright to roam around town with friends as long as you are trying to “help”? Might Teo’s actions have suggested that the lives of migrant workers are less important than her own electoral future?”
He added, “For sure, there should be nothing partisan about this message. Just because all of the seeming offences thus far have come from the People’s Action Party (PAP) does not mean that other parties have not committed offences or that they never will. We might never know what has been or will be done off camera.”
The author went on to say that Singapore has relied on COVID-19 self-regulation when it comes to political parties with major opposition parties suspending ground activities on 26 March while the PAP did the same on 13 April.
However, Mr Vadaketh noted that PAP members continued to walk the ground after that.
“Hence I am not convinced that political party self regulation is sufficient. I believe that a firm message from the top is necessary,” he urged.
He added that he was delighted to hear Mr Zulkifli saying that “the Government cannot make exceptions to any sector affected in the tighter circuit breaker period” when talking about regulating home-based bakers and food businesses.
He went on, “I think Singaporeans will be comforted to know that the government has the ability to act against not only low-income Singaporeans struggling to get by, but also politicians who earn millions of dollars a year.”
In a post-script of the letter, Mr Vadaketh said he cc’ed the letter to consul-general Ms Foo in Hong Kong as “she appeared not to see the link between elections and Singapore’s pandemic response.”
“As she sits far away in Hong Kong, I think she might benefit from the view of those of us actually on the ground in Singapore,” he said.