Calvin Cheng On The Case of Shanmugam v. Thum

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By: Obbana Rajah

Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng took to Facebook yesterday to offer his views on the almost 6-hour long discussion between Minister for Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam and Historian Thum Ping Tjin.

Cheng started off his post by explaining that despite his friendship with Thum, he had no qualms about being objective in his opinions. He then went on to outline three points; Thum’s academic credentials, interrogation about Operation Coldstore and if Minister Shanmugam’s interrogation constituted bullying.

During Thum’s Select Committee hearing, there were instances of comments made by Minister Shanmugam on the former’s credentials such as,

“Sitting there as a historian who has done detailed work in this area, you do not off the top of your head remember anything that suggests that Eu Chooi Yip and Chin Peng discussed and agreed to plan to sabotage the Malaysia plan?”

And, “you are someone who has done detailed research and work in this field, and I would have thought a plan by the Communist Party of Malaya to sabotage the Malaysia plan would have been something very significant that a historian will remember, but we will take it that you don’t, and we will move on”.

Possibly referring to these, Calvin Cheng wrote, “If one wants to criticise him, criticise him on the merits of his work, not on his credentials. That would be clutching at straws”. He also comments, “The point that [Thum} doesn’t have tenure is true but trite”.

Cheng continued in his post to address the rigour and style of Shanmugam’s questioning and explained that it was perfectly suited to the topic at hand.

He wrote, “The style of YES-NO answers and the narrowness of the questioning is EXACTLY what you would expect, especially when the claim was as outrageous as it was”.

Ending his post as to whether Shanmugam’s manner of questioning constituted bullying of PJ Thum, Calvin Cheng sums it up in a line, “I think this claim is the most ridiculous of all”. He explained that both men were matched in their credentials, with neither weaker than the other. Furthermore, with Thum often making faces at the camera while portraying himself as smug and arrogant, Cheng said, “Knowing him, he was relishing it. I hardly think he thought of himself being bullied”.

Netizens hardly held back with their commentary. Sinn Kheng Chia wrote, “You hit the nail on the head ya! As an ordinary Singaporean watching the proceedings, I find PJ Thum’s demeanour uncalled for. In fact he belittled himself! Sad!”

Vincent Law commented, “Agree on pts 1 and 3. Pt 2. the cross examination becomes convoluted and unfair when you only have a yes no answer situation or being narrow about questions, especially when historical interpretations have to be made based on a wide range of context. Not how a hearing should be conducted”.

In the comments, there was also a rather heated discussion between Calvin Cheng himself and a netizen, Winston Ong on the credentials of Thum and what seems to be an ambiguity in his area of expertise. This short discussion even saw journalist Bertha Henson stepping in.