SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party stands with Singapore, said its chief and leader of the opposition Pritam Singh on Sunday (June 21).
Responding to Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam's questioning of the party's loyalties earlier that day, Mr Singh said: "When it comes to Singapore's sovereignty, there can be no doubt where the WP has stood and will continue to stand."
The exchange began when Jurong GRC MP Tan Wu Meng criticised Mr Singh in an article published last Friday on the People's Action Party website, for speaking in support of poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at in Parliament during the Fortitude Budget debate earlier this month.
Mr Singh had called Mr Alfian a "loving critic" of Singapore, said Dr Tan, who cited several Facebook posts by the playwright, including a 2018 post made when Singapore and Malaysia were embroiled in a maritime dispute after Malaysian vessels intruded into Singapore waters.
Dr Tan wondered if Mr Singh had been aware of these posts when he made that comment. On Sunday, Mr Shanmugam said the WP chief had not made his position on the matter clear.
Responding in a Facebook post, Mr Singh noted that the term "loving critic" was originally coined by Ambassador-at-large Professor Tommy Koh to describe Mr Alfian and Singaporeans like him.
While he does not specifically track what local playwrights say about Malaysia, he said he has always appreciated the perspective of theatre practitioners in Singapore, "regardless of their race or choice of language medium, on subjects considered taboo or sensitive by mainstream standards".
"Such reflections, which are commonly critical and provocative, give rise to a thinking population. Singaporeans like Mr Alfian Sa'at, do not deserve to be admonished in Parliament on the basis of a selective reading of their works," he said.
"However, should any Singaporean consistently establish that he or she rejects Singapore or our Constitution or runs Singapore down with a political agenda overseas, neither I, nor the WP will stand for such conduct."
He quoted remarks made by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in a public forum last year, on how "no party politics has supervened or interfered with our pursuit of foreign policy" and that the current opposition "have played their part, and we have taken them into confidence. So it makes my job so much easier."
Mr Singh pointed out that as WP Secretary-General, he had drafted a press release in late 2018 when a Malaysian vessel entered Singapore waters off Tuas West.
"It was uncontroversial that Malaysia's actions were provocative and unnecessary in view of our fraternal relationship with our closest neighbour," he said.
"The WP stood behind our troops and officers deployed to deal with the situation."
He also questioned why Dr Tan had not registered his objections directly in Parliament during the Budget debate.
"PAP leaders, including Mr Shanmugam, routinely ask WP MPs to clarify their positions on the spot, in Parliament. WP MPs routinely do the same to PAP ministers," he said.
He added: "Dr Tan's belated but calculated decision to express his views on the PAP website on the eve of imminent general elections, or the leap in logic of extending Mr Alfian Sa'at's artistic expressions to an endorsement by the WP of every controversial view Mr Alfian has made, go some way to explain the vitriol that continues to come the way of not just Dr Tan, but the PAP as well.
"For these reasons, it is my view that Dr Tan's questions, cloaked as innocent ones, were politically motivated to divide Singaporeans into those who are for or against - not Singapore - but the PAP, and to paint the WP in negative light.
"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."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.