Why Seah Kian Peng can be right to read PJ Thum's views & actions as being against S'pore

Thum's posts has enough breadth to give him wiggle room.

Martino Tan| September 02, 02:09 PM

Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng wrote a Facebook post on Sept. 2, saying that it was "quite clear" that historian Thum Ping Tjin "does not wish Singapore well".

Seah's comments came on the back of Thum's surprise meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday, Aug. 30.

Thum then went on to post two Facebook posts, written with enough breadth for interpretation, that can be construed as undermining Singapore's own interests.

Exhibit 1: Wishing an “unofficial independence day” to Singaporeans

Source: Pingtjin Thum Facebook.

Exhibit 2: Asking Malaysian PM to "take leadership" in Southeast Asia for the promotion of certain values and ideals

Source: Pingtjin Thum Facebook.

Thum, together with political exile Tan Wah Piow, journalist Kirsten Han, comics artist Sonny Liew, civil rights activist Jolovan Wham and Malaysian political activist Hishamuddin Rais, met Mahathir for an hour and 20 minutes.

According to Han, the group spoke with Mahathir about Malaysia-Singapore relations, immigration processing times at the Causeway, democracy, political reform, human rights and LGBT equality.

Minister Shanmugam shared Seah's post

In his post, Seah interpreted the events as Thum inviting Mahathir to bring democracy to Singapore.

Hence, Seah wondered about the historical insights that prompted the historian to make this plea to Mahathir, especially when Mahathir's views on the water agreement with Singapore, and Singapore knowing its place in relation to Malaysia, were well known.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam agreed with Seah's reading, and shared the post.

Shanmugam said that Seah "makes some good points about the very surprising statements that are being made about Singapore’s sovereignty".

Shanmugam told The Straits Times at a grassroots event on Sunday that he found Thum’s conduct to be "a little sad" and "a bit regretful".

Shanmugam said that even if one was to have political differences, one “should never go out and invite someone foreign, a foreign politician, to intervene in our domestic politics”.

He added that such behaviour is “an absolute no-no”.

Han: "I'd like to set the record straight"

Seah's post then prompted Han to write a second blog post on early Sept. 2 morning on her meeting with Mahathir, as she wanted to "correct misconceptions that might be spreading online".

In her post, she clarified that the group of five Singaporeans did not attend this meeting as a collective, but as a group of individuals.

She added that Tan and Hishamuddin are both part of a group called Forces for the Renewal of Southeast Asia, and were planning to organise a conference on democracy in the region.

Han also personally vouched for Thum.

She said that she has worked closely with him for two years now and would like to reassure Seah that she had "never seen any indication or evidence that he (Thum) wishes Singapore ill" in all her time she spent with Thum.

Foreign entities interfering with Singapore's domestic affairs

There are a few issues worth considering.

First, Thum's public posts and actions were broad enough to give the impression that he was urging the Malaysian PM to interfere in Singapore's domestic affairs.

While ex-Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng noted that there is nothing wrong with being an activist committed to a cause, many Singaporeans would agree that it's "unacceptable to collaborate with foreigners and enlist their help to interfere in Singapore's domestic affairs".

Second, both Han and Wham have been much more open about their socio-political positions and views over the years, compared to Thum.

Han is a writer for many years and a founding member of an anti-death penalty group, while Wham has been involved in the work of helping migrant workers for Home (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics).

Is Thum a historian, an academic, an activist or a future politician?

His statements have enough fluidity to serve the standing of his multiple identities.

While there is nothing wrong with having multiple identities, one is unclear with regards to Thum's own agenda and whether his interests is aligned with Singapore's national interests.

In fact, Han, Wham and Liew had written at length about their thoughts of the meeting (see here, here and here) with Mahathir immediately.

Thum, on the other hand, had been rather reticent about his own thoughts on the meeting, choosing instead to share two rather pro-Malaysia posts.

Finally, there is the question of Tan Wah Piow and Thum's association with him.

Tan revealed that it was him who personally invited Thum to attend the meeting, and to extend the invite to anyone else who might be interested.

Tan's colourful history includes fleeing from Singapore in 1976, and failing to report for national service enlistment.

He is also not a Singaporean anymore, having been stripped of his citizenship in 1987.

Instead of adopting Han's stance of setting the record straight, Tan has chosen to be defensive.

Tan issued a rejoinder to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong -- in the form of a humblebrag -- asking him to share with fellow Singaporeans about his 30-minute experience with Mahathir.

But the meeting between two heads of governments surely cannot be equivalent to the casual meeting between one head of government and several private citizens.


Another fact to bear in mind is that PM Lee was meeting Mahathir on his official capacity as the leader of Singapore, and representing Singapore's interests, like he has done so the past 34 years.

On the other hand, we can only guess at best that Tan and Thum are on the side of Singapore and Singaporeans -- leaving personal interests and other objectives aside.