by Kok Ming Cheang
Mr Eugene Tan, an Associate Professor of Law at a public university, wrote an article titled “Progress Singapore Party at the crossroads, in search of relevance,” which was published by The Straits Times on 8 April 2023.
The article discusses the appointment of Mr Leong Mun Wai as the party’s new Secretary-General earlier this month. But how could a law academic get his analysis so wrong?
It is my personal opinion after having reflected on the contents of his article for some time.
Mr Tan, a former Nominated Member of Parliament, is often interviewed by Channel News Asia (CNA) for his opinions on a host of government issues. My respect for him remains.
The focus of the article focuses on “conflict” points or controversies during debates in Parliament but is silent on the context of the said controversies.
Along with his style of writing, not surprising that Mr Tan (or ST editor) came up with the caption “Progress Singapore Party at the crossroads, in search of relevance.”
This gives readers a feeling that PSP is still struggling to find its footing in Singapore as an opposition party.
In fact, since its founding in 2019, PSP has made real progress from the outcome of the last GE in 2020 to sending into Parliament, two party leaders into Parliament as Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP).
This shows that the electorate believes PSP is a serious political party, not a fly-by-night organization. Here lies its relevance to Singapore’s political landscape.
Its relevance is to represent the electorate and present arguments and proposals to improve the lives of Singaporeans since, as we can observe, PAP MPs often sat quietly and listened to unstimulating speeches, all reading from a script.
I have not witnessed serious debates among the PAP MPs with ministers, and almost none ever asked hard or inconvenient questions.
If Mr Tan had even referred to the PSP website, he couldn’t have missed this:
“For Country For People. We envision a united Singapore, based on the principles of inclusivity and non-discrimination. All citizens, regardless of race, …”
The four words “For Country For People” express a commitment to safeguard and improve the lives of Singaporeans.
This context is relevant as it drives the direction and energy of the two NCMPs, Mr Leongand Ms Hazel Poa, to propose and seek answers from the government.
As a result, Mr Leong asked over 300 parliamentary questions and put up two Motions in 2021 and 2023.
PSP is way past the “crossroads” to search for relevance but on a path that Singaporeans welcome because both its NCMPs are knowledgeable and courageous in asking critical questions which often weren’t answered.
In the last sitting before Parliament was prorogued, Mr Leong asked Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong four questions (then compromised to two), yet he couldn’t answer.
In deflecting the questions, DPM Wong openly used the words “falsehood” and “the sums don’t add up”, but he didn’t answer the questions put to him!
The questions put forth by Mr Leong were relevant, not falsehood. Certainly, they weren’t “antics”, as Mr Tan puts it but serious parliamentary business.
In reverse, can Mr Tan imagine how the Leader of the House or the Speaker would react if Mr Leong uttered these words?
Further, Mr Tan used words bordering on derogatory to describe Mr Leong in Parliament:
- personality politics
- dogged but confrontational style
- histrionics and grandstanding
- stinging assertions
- proclivity for putting out skewed and potentially misleading information
- being an irresponsible legislator
- colour public opinion
- combative, “take no prisoners” style
- self-inflicted aspersions
- playing hard ball
- Singapore for Singaporeans (to colour public opinion of PSP as anti-foreigners)
- anti-foreigner orientation
- firebrand style of politics.
All the above adjectives were meant to paint a negative image of both the party and the person in Parliament. Has Mr Tan had a political motive to write such an article? Was there pressure on him to denigrate the new Secretary-General of PSP?
Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh commented last Friday in Parliament that asking for information on the number of Intra-Corporate Transferees from India that worked in Singapore upon introducing CECA was like “squeezing blood out of stones.”
Mr Tan also questioned what PSP stands for. He went on to say that since PSP has advocated “Singapore for Singaporeans,” it focuses on “Singaporean pain points.”
Was the Associate Professor trying to colour public opinion of Mr Leong by saying that he is against foreign talents? This is untrue.
It is a complete misrepresentation to describe Mr Leong as someone who practised “firebrand style of politics” as it was the ruling party members who acted defensively in Parliament when challenged with an inconvenient question and cut short by the Speaker. A Speaker is expected to be fair and impartial in his handling of debates and not be seen as partial.
Mr Leong’s dogged persistence to seek replies from ministers should not be construed as “ confrontational.”
Consistently in Parliament, during major debates, the government vigorously tried to link him to “ racism “ and “xenophobia” when all he wanted was to “stand up for and speak up for all citizens’ concern and livelihoods” and “developing the Singaporean core.”
Therefore, there is no basis for attributing the phrase “Singapore for Singaporeans” to PSP or the NCMP.
I am surprised that an academic like Mr Tan, an Associate Professor of Law, can go wrong in his presentation and analysis of PSP and Mr Leong, in Singapore’s political landscape.
The losers are the readers of Straits Times as the article is more a personal attack on PSP and Mr Leong rather than an objective discourse to educate the Singaporeans who have to exercise their rights to vote in the next General Election.
A Senior Citizen who wants the best for Singapore.