Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh took to his Facebook on Sunday (21 June) to reply a question raised by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who had asked whose side is Mr Singh on in regards to his support towards local playwright Alfian Sa’at.
“When it comes to Singapore’s sovereignty, there can be no doubt where the WP has stood and will continue to stand. We stand with Singapore,” Mr Singh wrote.
In fact, he went on to quote a statement made by the Law Minister himself in a public forum last year. Mr Shanmugam said, “… I’m glad to tell you, at least based on my experience so far, there has been no gap, no party politics has supervened or interfered with our pursuit of foreign policy. This is a blessing … certainly with the current Opposition, they have played their part, and we have taken them into confidence. So it makes my job so much easier.”
Based on this, Mr Singh asserted that there is no doubt that his Party’s support is always for Singapore.
This latest exchange between the politicians started after People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP) Tan Wu Meng denounced Mr Singh’s support towards Mr Alfian on Friday (19 June).
Dr Tan, who is the MP for Jurong Group Representation Constituency (GRC), said that Mr Alfian is not a “loving critic” of Singapore and that Mr Singh should read all his previous writings “carefully” before praising the playwright.
In the article, Dr Tan highlighted a number of Mr Alfian previous remarks on Facebook, some going back as far as 2011, where the poet penned his take on Malaysia and other issues. He claimed that the poet’s posts showed his disdain for Singapore.
Commenting on his use of the term “loving critic” in Parliament earlier this month, Mr Singh on Sunday noted that veteran diplomat Tommy Koh had “originally coined” the phrase for Mr Alfian “and Singaporeans like him”.
“Prof Koh, a Singaporean diplomat of international stature who built his reputation by tactfully protecting Singapore’s foreign interests over many decades, needs no introduction. I found Prof Koh’s use of the term ‘loving critic’ to describe Singaporeans like Mr Alfian Sa’at apt. Why?
“I do not specifically track what our playwrights say about Malaysia. But I have always appreciated the perspective of theatre practitioners in Singapore, regardless of their race or choice of language medium, on subjects considered taboo or sensitive by mainstream standards.
“Such reflections, which are commonly critical and provocative, give rise to a thinking population,” said Mr Singh in his post.
As such, the WP chief noted that Mr Alfian should not be “admonished” in Parliament due to some of his previous works. However, if a Singaporean consistently shows that he or she “rejects Singapore or our Constitution or runs Singapore down with a political agenda overseas”, then Mr Singh stated that both him and his party will not support such conduct.
Mr Shanmugam responds
Following Mr Singh’s reply, Mr Shanmugam took to his Facebook this morning (22 June) to pen a reply.
The Law Minister expressed that he is glad that Mr Singh said that “the WP will continue to stand squarely with the government when it comes to foreign relations”.
He added that this is the same stance that former WP leader Mr Low Thia Kiang took.
However, Mr Shanmugam asserted that he still wants to know if Mr Singh “still believes that Mr Alfian Sa’at’s views on Malaysia and Singapore merit his support”.
“He admits now that he hadn’t examined these statements before declaring Mr Sa’at a ‘loving critic’ and admonishing the government for not heeding Mr Sa’at’s wisdom. He need not rush to examine those statements, (set out in Dr Tan’s post), but I hope to hear his views on them in good time,” he wrote in his post.
Mr Shanmugam added, “And let me make clear- this is not about artistic freedom, or license, those are not being questioned. This is specifically about Mr Singh asking the Government to listen to a specific individual.”