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First pre-GE attack? PAP’s Tan Wu Meng blasts WP’s Pritam Singh for supporting playwright Alfian Sa’at

Both men return fire, with backing from activist, playwright, writer and members of the online community




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Singapore — Is this the first shot fired among political parties in the lead-up to the General Election? Some believe this may be so.

The opening salvo, if indeed it was one, was fired by Dr Tan Wu Meng of the People’s Action Party (PAP) on Friday (June 19), the first day of Phase 2 of the relaxation of circuit breaker measures. It also came on the very next day after the Elections Department (ELD) made known campaigning guidelines for political parties if elections are held within Phase 2.

An article by Dr Tan was published on the website of the PAP on Friday morning, as well as posted on PAP’s Facebook page. It was entitled, innocently enough, “Mr Pritam Singh Supports Alfian Sa’at”.

But the content was not nearly as innocuous, as the PAP MP criticised the WP Secretary-General for speaking in support of playwright Alfian Sa’at in Parliament on June 5, although he admitted that Mr Singh did not identify Mr Alfian.

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Mr Singh had said: “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 citizens 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.”

Dr Tan wrote: “There are many Singaporeans who criticise Singapore out of patriotism and genuine care, including opposition leaders like Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr Low Thia Khiang.”

He added that Mr Alfian is no “loving critic”.

According to Dr Tan, the playwright has “consistently praised Malaysia to illustrate his disdain for Singapore” for almost ten years. He gave example after example of this from Facebook posts Mr Alfian had written dating back to 2011, as well as some of the poems he had penned.

The most recent proof of his alleged loyalties is from 2018, when then-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad sent ships into Singapore waters. And while the nation rallied together, and even the WP’s Low Thia Khiang spoke up on the issue in Parliament “as a patriot would”, Dr Tan wrote, Mr Alfian “mocked the approach taken by Singapore as ‘jingoism’.”

The playwright has had other critics, such as Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, as well as his share of supporters, including Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh.

But according to Dr Tan, Mr Alfian “constantly runs down Singapore” and takes the side of Malaysia when bilateral issues arise.

He said: “Mr Singh may not have read all these things that Alfian has said. I suggest he read them carefully, and then tell us if he still thinks Alfian is a ‘loving critic’ of Singapore.

“If he does, perhaps Mr Singh considers himself a ‘loving critic’ of Singapore too?” 

Both the WP chief and the playwright responded to the article on their respective Facebook accounts.

Mr Singh held his ground and shared the article from the PAP website, simply captioning it with the following.

“A loving critic. A son of Singapore.

“Not perfect. As imperfect as you and me Dr Tan, maybe more, maybe less.”

Mr Alfian called Dr Tan’s “attack” on him “bad form”.

I think it's just bad form to attack me as a way of attacking a member of an Opposition Party. If you wish to call me…

Posted by Alfian Sa'at on Thursday, June 18, 2020

The playwright added that if Dr Tan wanted to confront him on the stands he has taken regarding several issues in the past years, then he needs to do so directly “without having to drag other people into it”. He said he would be “very happy to have a discussion with you about what I think of Singapore, Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir, etc”.

Mr Alfian took the time to explain the type of nationalism he had seen growing up that “being constructed through the othering of the countries around us”. For him, patriotism is love for country, but a nationalism founded on “superiority, that at times went close to contempt and hatred” of other nations needed calling out, which, he has done over the years.

Dr Tan’s comments have been criticised by many, even in the comments section on the PAP’s Facebook page, especially since Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had just talked about social cohesion in his National Broadcast on Wednesday night.

On Mr Singh’s wall, there were comments in support of the WP leader.

Other people have also spoken out in support of Mr Alfian, including activist Kirsten Han, fellow playwright Joel Tan and writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh.

Ms Han questioned the PAP’s editorial process for allowing such content to be published, especially since the ELD had admonished in its advisory the day before that “candidates and their authorised representatives should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process. They should steer away from negative campaigning based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates”.

Elections Department, June 18: "Candidates and their authorised representatives should conduct election campaigning in a…

Posted by Kirsten Han on Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mr Vadaketh wrote: “Why bother responding to mediocrity?… Nevertheless, after sufficient reflection, I am glad that the politician wrote this piece. He has simply offered Singapore further evidence for what many of us have long suspected. The PAP is no longer just scraping the bottom of the barrel. It is looking below it.”

Many buddies have messaged me this morning, outraged that a Singaporean politician (and medical doctor) would use [an…

Posted by Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh on Friday, June 19, 2020

Mr Joel Tan wrote: “I refuse to share that infantile written attack on Alfian Sa’at and Pritam Singh that Tan Wu Meng has created in support of the PAP’s party line for election 2020 i.e. SALIVATING PATRIOTISM.”

I refuse to share that infantile written attack on Alfian Sa'at and Pritam Singh that Tan Wu Meng has created in support…

Posted by Joel Tan on Thursday, June 18, 2020


Read also: Diplomat Tommy Koh defends Alfian Sa’at amid Yale-NUS dissent course furor

Diplomat Tommy Koh defends Alfian Sa’at amid Yale-NUS dissent course furor

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