Why is a cabinet minister spending time to jump to the defence of MPs for interpreting things said by people not running for election?

Why is a cabinet minister spending time to jump to the defence of MPs for interpreting things said by people not running for election?

As election fever begins to heat up, several Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) members of parliament (MP) have begun to take pot shots at alternative party candidates.

For example, Tan Wu Meng, a PAP MP for Jurong Group Representative Constituency (GRC) has taken aim at Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh for having said the following in Parliament:

We should count ourselves fortunate that we have citizens who are the loving critics amongst us, some of whom have been questioned in this very House in this term of government. Members would recall one citizen’s poems were nit-picked with a view to cast wholly negative aspersions on his character, even though that individual was not present in the House to defend himself.

On the face of it. all this statement calls for is a need to look at things in context and not jump to conclusions or interpret things out of context. However, Tan has seemingly interpreted this to mean that Singh is somehow supporting all of playwright, Alfian Sa’at’s opinions.

How does one equate the other?

You can support someone’s right to an opinion without necessarily agreeing with all of it. Despite Tan’s somewhat creative interpretation of Singh’s words in the lead up to the general election, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam seems to have also jumped into the fray by calling Tan’s rather “scrapping the bottom of the barrel for something to criticise” opinions “serious” and “thoughtful”.

This whole thing should really have been a non event. Yet, Tan and Shanmugam may have made a mountain out of a molehill requiring Singh to confirm that he believed in Singapore’s sovereignty. Seems like a complete waste of time given that it is doubtful that any Singaporean thought otherwise.

Does this mean that Shanmugam is giving Tan’s rather tenuous criticism more time than necessary?

Shanmugam is a senior member of government with heavy responsibilities. It is somewhat surprising that he is coming to the defence of something that seems rather trivial. In the light of COVID-19 and the upcoming election, it is curious that a cabinet minister would have the time to attend to a creative interpretation of “he said, she said”.

Aren’t there more serious policy issues to think about and formulate? Surely there are far more important things to spend time on than what Sa’at, (who is neither working for the government nor running for election) may or may not think?

However, this is not the first time Shanmugam has jumped to the defence of something seemingly innocuous that a PAP MP has said. Back in 2018, PAP MP for Marine Parade GRC , Seah Kian Peng had criticised historian Thum Ping Tjin for allegedly supporting SIngapore’s merger with Malaysia at a meeting with Dr. Mahathir.

Just like Tan’s comments on Singh, Seah’s comments on Thum were rather creatively interpreted. Thum had said that Singapore is part of Malaya. He did not say Singapore is part of Malaysia. There is a huge difference between the two statements.

In Colonial times, Singapore was part of Malaya. Now that Malaya has been split into Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, that term is no longer used. But historically, Singapore was part of Malaya. That is not subversive. That is fact. For Seah to have suggested that Thum was somehow unpatriotic suggests his lack of knowledge for historical terms.

At that time, activist, Kirsten Han (who was with Thum in Malaysia) had clarified  that Thum “did not say that he asked Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore, nor did I hear him say such a thing during the meeting.” Yet, Shanmugum had also waded in then by saying that Seah had made “some good points about the very surprising statements that are being made about Singapore’s sovereignty.

One has to wonder why a cabinet minister is partaking in such word plays anyway? Why is he always jumping in to defend such seemingly inconsequential accusations anyway? Like Sa’at, Thum neither works for the government nor is he running for election.

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