Alfian Sa’at Described As “Loving Critic” Of Singapore By Pritam Singh, Dr Tan Begs To Differ

While Singaporeans are in the midst of joyously celebrating the first day of Phase 1, it seems that the election campaigning has started in earnest.

Dr Tan Wu Meng, a Member of Parliament for Jurong Group Representation Constituency, seems to have fired the first shot.

It was fired ostensibly at Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh, but instead of saying much about Mr Pritam, Dr Tan spent most of his statement talking about playwright Alfian Sa’at.

(From left) Dr Tan Wu Meng, Mr Alfian Sa’at and Mr Pritam Singh
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Pritam called Alfian a “loving critic” in Parliament, says Tan

In a statement posted on the website of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), Dr Tan called into question a quote by Mr Pritam in Parliament.

At a Budget debate on 5 Jun, Mr Pritam said that Singapore is fortunate to have “loving critics among us” as citizens.

While Mr Pritam didn’t mention who he was referring to, Dr Tan said “it is clear” he was referring to Mr Alfian.

Dr Tan, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Trade and Industry, disagreed with Mr Pritam’s description of Mr Alfian as a “loving critic”.

He then spent most of the rest of the article posting screenshots of Mr Alfian’s Facebook posts, citing them as examples of how Mr Alfian has “consistently praised Malaysia to illustrate his disdain for Singapore”.

Tan says Alfian takes Malaysia’s side

According to Dr Tan, Mr Alfian, despite being Singaporean, “takes Malaysia’s side when there are tensions between Malaysia and Singapore”.

An example he gave is that even when Malaysia and Singapore had tensions over territorial issues in 2018 when former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad was in power, Mr Alfian “mocked the approach taken by Singapore”, Dr Tan said.

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Another point Dr Tan made is that Mr Alfian “attacked” the legacy and contributions of late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew 2 days after his death.

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Dr Tan also said that Mr Alfian,

… constantly runs down Singapore, and says he would love to become a Malaysian… And takes Malaysia’s side , when there are tensions between Malaysia and Singapore.

Thus, he questioned how Mr Pritam could say Mr Alfian is a “loving critic” of Singapore — unless Mr Pritam himself considers himself a “loving critic” in the same vein.

A Facebook post on Dr Tan’s statement on the PAP’s Facebook page even went as far as to imply that Mr Alfian is a “pro-Malaysia activist”.

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Pritam still supports Alfian

Mr Pritam’s response to that on Facebook was short and sweet:

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Standing his ground on calling Mr Alfian a “loving critic”, Mr Pritam also denied that Mr Alfian was pro-Malaysia by calling him a “son of Singapore”.

However, Mr Alfian was not perfect, Mr Pritam said — just like he and Dr Tan weren’t.

Alfian says should call him out directly, don’t involve others

Mr Alfian had a much longer response, while never specifically mentioning Dr Tan or Mr Pritam.

Saying that it was “bad form” to use a roundabout way of attacking the opposition by way of attacking him, he called on people to call him out directly, and not to drag other people into it.

He reasoned that the statements that he had made were not made by the opposition, neither did the opposition endorse his statements.

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Distinction between patriotism & nationalism

He defended his Facebook posts in the past as calling out “Singaporean nationalism” based on a sense of superiority over our neighbouring countries.

He also made a distinction between “patriotism” and “nationalism”, saying patriotism is the love for one’s country but “nationalism” is built on superiority and close to contempt for other countries.

Alfian says he’s criticised Malaysia too

While Mr Alfian’s praise for Malaysia has sometimes been described by friends as overboard, he says the praise is meant for “anti-Malaysian Singaporeans”.

On the other hand, he’s also written an entire play that criticises Malaysia’s racial politics.

It’s called Parah, and he encouraged people to check it out to see another side of him.

Alfian points out he’s the least of many troubles for Singapore

Mr Alfian ended by noting that Singapore is facing many challenges: e.g. Covid-19, a looming recession and job insecurity.

Thus, a “non-essential” nobody like him should really be very low on the list of election campaign priorities.

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However, it turns out that Mr Alfian is a big fan of Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and loved his national speech on Wednesday (17 Jun).

Campaign salvos have started

What we’ve learnt from these back-and-forth statements is that the election campaign has well and truly started.

What was surprising was that the opening salvo seemed to be directed at the political leanings of a playwright instead of a politician, while the politician it was actually directed to handled it an a low-key manner.

Who do you think won the initial bout? Or is it much too soon to tell? We’ll be closely monitoring subsequent bouts.

Featured images adapted from Facebook, Facebook and Facebook.