The People's Action Party has kicked off electioneering online with an out-of-the-blue article pointing out Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh's support for Alfian Sa'at, a Singaporean playwright and poet.
The piece, "Mr Pritam Singh supports Alfian Sa’at", was written by Tan Wu Meng, MP of Jurong GRC and the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Trade and Industry, but posted on the party's official platforms.
It marks an uncharacteristic turn for the ruling party, at least in recent times, to single out Alfian, a vocal critic of the establishment, but who nonetheless, is still a regular citizen -- but not wholly unexpected with the general election (GE) round the corner.
The online article was then shared onto the PAP's Facebook page with 193,000 fans, where it started a lively discussion about the intention of the piece.
The party's platforms used to propagate the piece signals the party's endorsement.
What article said
Tan wrote in his opening lines:
During the recent Budget debate on 5 June, WP Leader Mr Pritam Singh spoke in support of Alfian Sa’at.
Mr Singh said that we should count ourselves fortunate that we have citizens who are “loving critics among us”. He gave an example, without naming names, but it is clear that he was referring to Alfian Sa’at.
Tan then said Alfian is no "loving critic", as there are many Singaporeans who "criticise Singapore out of patriotism and genuine care", such as opposition leaders Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang.
Tan's article then consisted of screen shots of Alfian's past Facebook posts over the years, where he openly supports Malaysia.
In his conclusion, Tan wrote:
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?
What Pritam said previously
Pritam's speech was delivered in Parliament on June 5 during the Fortitude Budget debate.
Pritam spoke at length on three E's -- economy, engagement and empathy -- that also touches on the perception that the government's communication on the Covid-19 crisis is not clear.
The context of the quote Tan extracted from came from this portion of Pritam's speech:
To that end, the government’s decision to quickly introduce guidelines for better foreign worker accommodation standards and the promotion of a more respectful culture between Singaporeans and migrant workers has been a very positive development.
In my view Mr Speaker, 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.
Mr Speaker, when any leader or person of influence engages in what will be interpreted as dog-whistling, it sets the tone for how members of the public debate with those whose views they disagree with.
Within 34 minutes of PAP's post appearing on Facebook, Pritam responded.
He wrote, keeping it short:
A loving critic. A son of Singapore.
Not perfect. As imperfect as you and me Dr Tan, maybe more, maybe less.
Shortly after, in about one-and-a-half hours after PAP's post appeared, Alfian issued a lengthy statement on Facebook.
Alfian wrote that the PAP should not resort to using a citizen to attack an opposition politician in a "roundabout" manner: "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 out on various statements that I have made over the years, then do it without having to drag other people into it," Alfian wrote.
Alfian added that he has over the years given "rhapsodic" views about Malaysia as a challenge to "anti-Malaysian Singaporeans, where any praise of Malaysia is seen as provocative to their worldview".
He also acknowledged that his positive views on Malaysia has papered over their very real struggles for justice and equality, to the chagrin of Malaysians.
However, Alfian said he has also been critical of Malaysia in his literary works.
Towards the end of his post, Alfian wrote that the ruling party should be picking apart an opposition party's manifesto instead of picking on a "nobody".
Alfian wrote: "In the grand scheme of things, I’m really a nobody. And by dragging me into this, you’re risking coming down to my level to become another nobody, discussing things of very little consequence to these elections."We have reached out to Tan for additional comments.
Previously, after Alfian's poetry was read out in Parliament in October 2019, Tommy Koh, Singapore's ambassador-at-large wrote in a Facebook post on Oct. 8 in support of the playwright:
"We should not demonise Alfian Sa’at. He is one of our most talented playwrights. I regard him as a loving critic of Singapore. He is not anti- Singapore."