A key member of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) sparked a dispute this week when he described leaders of a proposed four-party alliance as captains of "sinking boats" who are just "clasping one another's hands to save themselves from drowning".
Mr Alex Tan, who is personal assistant to PSP leader Tan Cheng Bock and sits on the party's central executive committee (CEC), drew angry reactions from some opposition leaders after his remarks were made public, prompting his party to issue a statement yesterday distancing itself from his words.
In a statement put up on Facebook, PSP described Mr Tan's remarks as made "in jest in the context of a casual group chat".
"Please take note that PSP would like to clarify that these comments are not shared by Dr Tan (Cheng Bock) and the rest of the CEC. We deeply respect the years of commitment and sacrifice that other opposition parties and their leaders have put into working for the betterment of our nation," it said.
Mr Tan had a day earlier said his remarks were made in his personal capacity, and did not represent his party's stance towards the proposed alliance and its leaders.
He told The Straits Times: "(They were) made when I posted my reaction in my various chat groups, when chat members posted the ST story on the four-party coalition."
The Straits Times had reported on Jan 3 that four opposition parties - Singaporeans First (SingFirst), Democratic Progressive Party, People's Power Party (PPP) and Reform Party - were set to form an alliance. ST understands four other parties approached, including PSP, declined to join.
Mr Tan said he repeated his remarks to The Online Citizen editor Terry Xu when asked for his opinion on the planned alliance, which were then published by the website on Monday.
"It's my personal view only. I said so because I love analogies and symbolism and poetry," said Mr Tan.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng said he was "greatly disappointed" that Mr Alex Tan had "shown such animosity" towards the planned alliance, which had invited Dr Tan Cheng Bock to be its leader.
Mr Goh said even if Mr Alex Tan had commented in his personal capacity, "as a CEC member and personal assistant to Dr Tan Cheng Bock, his words will carry tremendous weight and influence PSP's overall mindset and direction".
He said the comments were neither "helpful nor necessary", and questioned the PSP's "real agenda" in the political arena.
SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say had at the time also urged Dr Tan Cheng Bock to issue a public statement to clarify the PSP's stance and "set the record straight", in view of Mr Alex Tan's close ties to the party and Dr Tan himself.
The statements from PSP and Mr Tan do not appear to have since assuaged tempers.
Mr Goh wrote on Facebook yesterday that he was "utterly disappointed" by PSP's statement.
"It really doesn't clear the air to put up such (a) lame excuse and unwarranted insinuation. Be truthful about it. Made a terrible mistake, just admit it and apologise. That's what we call integrity," he wrote.