If Pritam Singh didn’t have Parliamentary Immunity, he would be dead.
If you’ve read the Worker’s Party Assistant Sec-Gen’s recent questions in Parliament, you’d be forgiven if you thought he was being seditious – because that’s what it is. Stripped of Parliamentary immunity, these words make for dangerous incendiary devices of which can cause damage to our religious fabric.
– Should a presidential candidate who sees himself as part of the Indian community qualify if he or she can barely get by in Tamil (or other Indian languages)?
– Would the background of an aspiring president’s spouse matter? He pointed out how portraits of both president and “first lady” are prominently displayed in government buildings.
– What would happen, he asked, if the aspiring president’s spouse had converted to Islam to marry, but does not follow the faith?
This is not new.
Pritam was criticised by Singapore’s ambassador Bilahari Kausikan for not being educated in the religious sensitivities of his nature.
“In 2013, Mr Pritam Singh of the Worker’s Party, who should have known better, asked a question in Parliament about our (Singapore’s) Middle East policies that could have stirred up the feelings of our Malay-Muslim ground against the government. He did not do his homework. It is not difficult to demonstrate that Singapore has been consistently even-handed in our relations with Israel and Palestine.” quoted the Ambassador-at-Large in a lecture at the IPS-Nathan Lecture Series (Dealing with an Ambiguous World: Can Singapore Cope?).
And how did Pritam react after being faced with such harsh criticisms? Why, blame the good ambassador for not being favourable to Opposition parties, especially the Worker’s Party of course.
Is this the sort of attitude we want in our political landscape? A politician made dangerous remarks in Parliament that is harmful to Singapore’s foreign affairs and he dismisses it as one of mere party politics.
Singapore is diplomatic about these things; that is of being even-handed and pro-peace, not favouring any country in particular. “Our relationship with Israel is not any deeper than with many other countries. In fact, several other countries have much more leverage over Israel. We are a small country, far removed from Israel, and we have a good relationship with Israel as we have with the Palestinian National Authority and several other Arab countries, and many others.” said Minister Shanmugam.
(For a full reading of the official position, you may read the 2014 transcript here.)
Mr Bilahari was right to have criticised the Workers’ Party’s Mr Pritam Singh for asking in Parliament in 2013 about Singapore’s Middle East policies that indeed could have stirred up the feelings of our Malay-Muslim ground against the Government. “The Arab countries understand our position and have no issue with our relations with Israel” reminded the ambassador.
Foreign affairs, especially those continuously linked to religion are both complex and contradictory. Politicians such as Pritam should know better. We have to continue to be clinical in our understanding and management of these situations.
“We will fail only if we lose our sense of vulnerability because that is what keeps us united, agile and alert.” says Bilahari. And that is precisely what this particular politician for the Workers Party needs to understand.