Opposition politicians bickering over 1 catty comment is just hard for normal S'poreans to understand

This sort of animosity within a small group is a barrier-to-entry to local political participation.

Belmont Lay| January 16, 10:11 AM

What is going on?

A disagreement has broken out between members from various opposition political parties in Singapore, resulting in public calls from those aggrieved to set the record straight, as the next general election draws near.

Why? Over a catty comment.

And the bickering has taken a life of its own as the comment and subsequent back-and-forth have been reported by the mainstream media in a timely fashion, making the trading of barbs a real-time development and giving it more weight than what the situation deserves and is really about -- namely, online bickering.

Who said what?

To recap very briefly: The catty comment was made by Alex Tan Tiong Hee (pictured above), the personal assistant to former People's Action Party MP Tan Cheng Bock, who is the leader of Progress Singapore Party, which is the newest political party in Singapore.

Alex Tan Tiong Hee is not the same Alex Tan, who is currently residing in Australia and who runs States Times Review.

What was the catty comment about?

Alex Tan Tiong Hee described opposition parties’ leaders as “captains from their respective sinking boats — not even a ship! — clasping one another’s hands to save themselves from drowning”.

Why did he make this comment?

This comment came in the wake of news that four opposition parties have been in talks to form an alliance to contest in the next general election.

The four parties are the Singaporeans First party (SingFirst), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), People’s Power Party (PPP), and Reform Party (RP).

How did the catty comment become public?

There are at least two versions as to how the catty comment took on a life of its own.

One mainstream media report said Alex Tan Tiong Hee's remarks were made when he spoke to The Online Citizen, which published the comments on the website on Jan. 13.

TOC itself said the comments were made on Jan. 9.

Following the hullabaloo online from members of the other political parties, Alex Tan Tiong Hee then clarified with The Straits Times that he made the remarks in his personal capacity, and said they did not represent his party's stance towards the proposed alliance and its leaders.

He also told ST that his views were made in chat groups: "It was made when I posted my reaction in my various chat groups, when chat members posted the ST story on the four-party coalition."

Besides reiterating that it was his personal views, Alex Tan Tiong Hee also told ST: "I said so because I love analogies and symbolism and poetry."

So, who is feeling aggrieved?

SingFirst leader Tan Jee Say

SingFirst leader Tan Jee Say urged in a Facebook post on Tuesday for Tan Cheng Bock to issue a public statement to clarify the PSP's stance and "set the record straight", as Alex Tan Tiong Hee has close ties to the party and Tan Cheng Bock himself.

People's Power Party leader Goh Meng Seng

PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng said in a Facebook post on Tuesday he was "greatly disappointed" that Alex Tan Tiong Hee had "shown such animosity" towards the planned alliance, which had invited Tan Cheng Bock to be its leader.

What are they taking umbrage at?

Alex Tan Tiong Hee's comment that the proposed four-party alliance is made up of "fringe" political parties that are, collectively, fighting for survival, has hit a raw nerve.

It appears to be an attempt to belittle the four parties and their chances of making it this coming general election.

What has PSP done in response to being called out?

PSP put out an official statement on Jan. 15:

According to ST's characterisation of the statement, PSP has distanced itself from the remarks of its key member who disparaged the proposed four-party alliance.

Whether this is necessarily the case can easily be verified by the future public appearances of Tan Cheng Bock and Alex Tan Tiong Hee at events and walkabouts.

What is the aftermath of the PSP statement?

At least one person is still unhappy.

PPP secretary-general Goh said in a Facebook

rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">post on Wednesday, after the PSP statement came out, that he was "utterly disappointed" by the PSP statement.

Goh said in another post he did not feel Alex Tan Tiong Hee had made the comments "in jest".

Goh also said he felt the PSP statement sought to shift the blame to the culprit who had leaked the comments to the mainstream media.

What are the optics of this sort of bickering?

As the general election draws near, which would be held anytime in the next 15 months, the media will pick up on such stories as they not only show the inter-party dynamics of the opposition political parties scene, but such instances will also demonstrate the intra-alliance dynamics.

Moreover, outrage appears not to be allocated evenly within the alliance.

So far, only two leaders from the alliance have made their dissatisfaction known.

If the four parties in the alliance are already not feeling equally aggrieved or charitable, how will such imbalances manifest downstream?

For non-followers of Singapore politics and all laypersons, this sort of development is unnecessarily alienating and difficult to keep up with.

It will not only be deemed unessential, but it can even pose as a barrier to entry to local politics.

For vested parties and keen observers, such episodes of verbal bust-ups illustrate the fractious relationships already in existence within such a small group of individuals, and serves to reinforce the notion that egos are hard to set aside for the collective betterment of smaller opposition parties.

In other words, such public bust-ups favour the incumbent.

Top photo via

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