Singapore—The issue concerning Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh supporting playwright Alfian Sa’at continued to be fought out as Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam weighed in on the matter on Sunday, which has elicited a reply from Mr Pritam.
On Friday, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Dr Tan Wu Meng, published an article on the website of the PAP, which was also posted on PAP’s Facebook page. Entitled, “Mr Pritam Singh Supports Alfian Sa’at,” 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 Pritam did not identify Mr Alfian.
Mr Pritam 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 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.”
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,” but 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 10 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.
Dr Tan’s article has been widely criticized online.
On Sunday, Mr Shamugam, while on a walkabout in Chong Pang, was asked to comment on the issue, said that Dr Tan has asked “a serious and thoughtful question,” and had laid out the playwright’s positions over the years.
“Mr Alfian Sa’at’s position is that Singaporean Chinese are selfish in not wanting a merger with Malaysia. He deeply dislikes Mr Lee Kuan Yew, dismisses his legacy,” said Mr Shamugam in a summary of the points he made on the issue.
He added that the playwright “loves Malaysia and Dr Mahathir,” and that Mr Alfian had taken Malaysia’s side in the maritime issues of December 2018.
And while he admitted that the playwright is “entitled to his views” Mr Shanmugam took exception to Mr Pritam calling him a “loving critic” of the country and saying that the Government should listen to the playwright.
“As the leader of the Opposition, does he agree with Alfian Sa’at’s views when he asked the Government to listen to him and called him a ‘loving critic’ of Singapore? If he hadn’t known what Mr Sa’at has said, then the position is very different.”
Mr Shanmugam wrote that the WP under Low Thia Khiang had been “clear to not take another country’s side against Singapore. Politics stopped at the boundaries.”
In an answer to the Minister late on Sunday night, the WP chief wrote in a Facebook post, “When it comes to Singapore’s sovereignty, there can be no doubt where the WP has stood and will continue to stand. We stand with Singapore.”
He added that “loving critic” had originally been coined by Professor Tommy Koh “for Mr Alfian Sa’at and Singaporeans like him” and that he found the use of the term for the playwright “apt.”
At the end of his post Mr Pritam wrote, “How the PAP chooses to conduct its politics is something for the PAP to decide. The public are equally entitled to respond as they deem fit – within the remit of the law – and at the ballot box.”
Early on Monday morning, Mr Shanmugam wrote a Facebook post in reply to the WP chief, saying that he was “glad” to have read that the WP “will continue to stand squarely with the government when it comes to foreign relations,” and that this “continues the stance that Mr Low Thia Kiang took.”
However, the Minister sought to clarify that the issue is not “about artistic freedom, or license.”
Rather, he wrote, “This is specifically about Mr Singh asking the Government to listen to a specific individual.” —/TISG