It seems pretty bizarre to apparently unleash attacks on an opposition party member of parliament (MP) for his support of a playwright as election fever heats up. Surely, there are better things to criticise a fellow MP for?
However, that is exactly what Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) MP for Jurong Group Representative Constituency (GRC), Tan Wu Meng did when he published an article on the PAP website condemning Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh for supporting playwright Alfian Sa’at as a “loving critic” of Singapore.
Is this scrapping the bottom of the barrel for something to criticise or what? Is the Workers’ Party (WP) doing such a great job that the worst thing you have to say about him is that he supports Alfian Sa’at?
Besides, what is wrong with supporting Sa’at anyway? Sa’at has been an active critic of the PAP, not Singapore. One can criticise actions taken by the government and the government’s policies but still love his or her own country.
There is a difference between state and party or perhaps does Tan not know the difference? Or worst, is he deliberately blurring the lines between party and state as the election looms?
This is sadly not a new tactic of the PAP though. Back in 2011, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan criticised opposition candidate, Vincent Wijeysingha from the Singapore Democratic Party for supposedly having a gay agenda in the lead up to the 2011 general election because Wijeysingha supported gay rights in Singapore.
In this move, Balakrishnan appeared to have displayed a poor knowledge of rights movements. Wanting equality for the LGBT community in Singapore is not some sort of nefarious agenda that needs any calling out. It is certainly not something to be trucked out as some sort of dirty secret for public criticism in the lead up to an election.
Fast forward 8 years, it would appear that the PAP may be doing the same thing again — throwing up below the belt, unnecessary and irrelevant issues as a way to discredit opposition politicians. Tan would do better if he focused on policies rather than seemingly creating a meaningless sideshow to detract from what this election should be about.
If he needs some suggestions, there is the issue of racially based Presidential Election, hastily passed POFMA, impending 9 per cent GST hikes and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, just to name a few.
However, could it be that the GRC system enables PAP MPs to say carte blanche want they want because they know that they have a strong team to rely on to help win the election anyway?
Let’s take the latest example of Tan. Jurong GRC has within it Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Even if the constituents of Jurong GRC do not condone Tan’s statements, they might still vote for the PAP because of Shanmugaratnam, who remains (arguably) one of the most popular politicians in Singapore.
In fact, the team led by the former DPM and Finance Minister won the highest percentage of votes with close to 80% of total votes cast. For someone who is relatively unknown even till today, it is unlikely the high percentage of votes is attributed to his participation.
So is Tan ostensibly riding on the coattails of Shanmugaratnam’s popularity? And did he make the comments against the WP chief because he knows he can safely get away with it in the general election?
The GRC system has long been criticised for this weakness — that weaker contestants get a free pass into Parliament because they can rely on the influence of a much stronger candidate within the group. Is this what is most beneficial to Singaporeans?