SINGAPORE — A controversy erupted during a parliamentary session when the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin, was caught on video uttering the derogatory phrase, “f****** populist,” following a speech given by Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, Associate Professor Jamus Lim who advocated for more government support for the underprivileged in Singapore.
The incident was revealed when the video surfaced in an online forum.
Mr Tan quickly issued an apology for his choice of inappropriate language, attributing it to a private view he had formed about the opposition MP’s speech.
Assoc Prof Lim, the affected MP, accepted Mr Tan’s apology; however, concerns have been raised about the impartiality of Tan’s position as the Speaker of Parliament due to his remark caught via hot mic during active duty.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Red Dot United (RDU) expressed reservations about Mr Tan’s ability to maintain neutrality.
The party said in its statement, “Even before this Freudian Slip, there has been some concern that the Speaker is a member of the ruling party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC), which raises the risk of unconscious favouritism towards his own party when attempting to act with fairness towards all Members of Parliament.”
“This incident lends weight to this vulnerability as it is now not unthinkable that the Speaker may inadvertently be unable to maintain any personal bias from interfering with his conduct as the Speaker.”
Since the General Election in 2020, RDU has been vocal in its support for a non-partisan Speaker of Parliament, a stance influenced by past examples such as Sir George Oehlers, A.P. Rajah, and Punch Coomaraswamy, who were not members of any political party.
This, according to RDU, would ensure impartiality and negate any risk of compromising fairness in parliamentary proceedings.
The RDU underscored that Tan’s outburst is in clear violation of Para 50(4) of the Standing Orders of the Parliament of Singapore, which explicitly prohibits the use of offensive and insulting language about Members of Parliament.
While appreciating Mr Tan’s swift apology, RDU has called for a formal parliamentary investigation into the breach of decorum.
The party believes that such an investigation will document the incident, set a precedent for future cases, and ensure consistency and proportionality of consequences for breaching the Standing Orders.
RDU insists that upholding parliamentary standards is critical for maintaining public trust in the institution.
The party hopes that a swift and transparent resolution to this incident will show Parliament’s commitment to accountability and preserving its dignity.