PAP's Tan Wu Meng chides WP chief Pritam Singh for supporting poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at

(From left) PAP MP Tan Wu Meng, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh and poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at. PHOTOS: ST FILE, GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - PAP MP Tan Wu Meng has criticised Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh for supporting Singapore poet and playwright Alfian Sa'at, saying Mr Alfian is not a "loving critic" of Singapore.

In an article published on the People's Action Party website on Friday (June 19), Dr Tan said Mr Singh had spoken in support of Mr Alfian during the Fortitude Budget debate.

Dr Tan said there are many Singaporeans, including opposition politicians Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang, who criticise the country "out of patriotism and genuine care".

"But Alfian Sa'at is no 'loving critic'," he said.

In the article titled "Mr Pritam Singh supports Alfian Sa'at", Dr Tan said Mr Alfian has consistently praised Malaysia "to illustrate his disdain for Singapore" for nearly a decade, and went on to cite several critical Facebook posts by Mr Alfian.

He cited a post by Mr Alfian in 2018, when both countries were embroiled in a maritime dispute after Malaysian vessels intruded into Singapore waters. Airspace management over southern Johor was also in the spotlight then.

In it, Mr Alfian "mocked the approach taken by Singapore as 'jingoism'", Dr Tan said.

In another 2018 post, Mr Alfian praised the "new Malaysia" under then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and compared it favourably against Singapore.

Said Dr Tan: "Mr Alfian's view is that Dr Mahathir's style of democracy, and Malaysian-style governance, should be brought to Singapore. Dr Mahathir, who has talked about bombing Singapore, and cutting off our water supply."

Dr Tan cited another Facebook post in 2011 by Mr Alfian, which featured a photo of a Malaysian flag.

He said: "Mr Alfian likes the Malaysian bumiputera policies. He says Singaporean Chinese are being selfish in not wanting merger with Malaysia."

In 2012, Mr Alfian said in a Facebook post that he "would love to become a Malaysian".

Dr Tan wrote: "This man grew up in Singapore. Singapore gave him his education and he earns a living here...

"And he constantly runs down Singapore, and says he would love to become a Malaysian, and that there is nothing wrong in accepting the bumiputera policies here. And takes Malaysia's side when there are tensions between Malaysia and Singapore."

Dr Tan ended his article by offering Mr Singh a suggestion. He said: "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?"

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Dr Tan said Mr Alfian, on multiple occasions, has taken the side of Malaysia, against Singapore. "And so when the leader of the opposition endorses Mr Alfian as a 'loving critic', it is worth asking if such endorsement was an informed choice," he added.

Dr Tan is an MP for Jurong GRC and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs.

Mr Singh, during the Budget debate in Parliament on June 5, had said Singapore should count itself fortunate that it has citizens who are "loving critics amongst us, some of whom have been questioned in this very House in this term of government".

Mr Singh did not name anyone in his speech but was thought to be referring to Mr Alfian, whose 1998 poem Singapore, You Are Not My Country, was quoted in Parliament last October by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who cited Mr Alfian as someone who had misgivings about Singapore.

Mr Singh, who is an MP for Aljunied GRC, shared Dr Tan's article in a Facebook post on Friday. In a brief comment accompanying the post, Mr Singh said: "A loving critic. A son of Singapore. Not perfect. As imperfect as you and me Dr Tan, maybe more, maybe less."

Mr Alfian, responding to Dr Tan in a Facebook post on the same day, said it is "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," Mr Alfian said.

"If you had to go through this route just to attack another opposition party, the impression you're giving is that their party manifesto and their policy proposals are so unassailable that you have to actually resort to this," he added.

"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."

He added that he has tried to offer alternative views of Malaysia, not just on Facebook but also through forums and interviews. These included critical ones, such as his play Parah, which "is deeply critical of the toxic racial politics in Malaysia".

In a response to queries from ST on Friday, Mr Alfian said: "The elections are coming. Let's focus on scrutinising the respective party election manifestos and their campaign promises. That's what elections should be about."

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