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'Absolute no-no' for S'poreans to invite foreign leaders to intervene in domestic politics: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — While it is the people's right to have political differences in Singapore, one should "never go out and invite a foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Sunday (Sept 2).

'Absolute no-no' for S'poreans to invite foreign leaders to intervene in domestic politics: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — While it is the people's right to have political differences in Singapore, one should "never go out and invite a foreign politician to intervene in our domestic politics", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Sunday (Sept 2).

"I think that is an absolute no-no," Mr Shanmugam said on the sidelines of a community event. He was responding to questions from reporters about the meeting earlier this week between political dissident Tan Wah Piow, several Singaporeans — historian Thum Ping Tjin, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, civil rights activist Jolovan Wham and award-winning graphic novelist Sonny Liew — and Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Mr Shanmugam described the whole conduct of the Singaporeans involved as "a little sad" and "a bit regretful". He said: "Dr Thum puts up a photo of him holding his book on politics in Singapore, shaking hands with the Malaysian Prime Minister, then puts up a forum post saying that he invites Dr Mahathir to take a leading role in promoting democracy, human rights, freedom of speech in South-east Asia. I think it is quite clear what that means."

He added: "Kirsten Han then puts a post saying, well, that is for South-east Asia but not Singapore. Where is Singapore if it is not in South-east Asia. Do we need a geography lesson? And we are not saying anything about Dr Mahathir but I think one needs to be careful with these things."

On Saturday, Marine Parade GRC Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng hit out at Dr Thum for suggesting that Singaporeans should also rejoice on Malaysia's independence day which fell on Aug 31.

Ms Han responded by saying, among other things, that Mr Seah "appears to have misunderstood the nature of the meet with Mahathir and the comments that have been made since". She also noted that Dr Thum's Facebook post was not about "declaring Singapore a part of Malaysia, but merely a reference to our own history".

Adding that Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had declared independence from the British on Aug 31, 1963, Ms Han said: "So Aug 31 is an 'unofficial independence day' for the people of Singapore. As Lee Kuan Yew said, it signified the end of colonial British rule in Singapore."

Nevertheless, Mr Shanmugam said that the attempts "now to try and explain away what is so obvious doesn't do much credit either".

He pointed out that Dr Thum and Ms Han had previously sought to set up a company "which has taken foreign money, to also promote democracy, human rights and so on in Singapore".

Earlier this year, Dr Thum and Ms Han had sought to register a company, OSEA Pte Ltd, which was to be indirectly funded by controversial Hungarian-American financier George Soros to organise activities such as workshops and "democracy classroom" sessions and support the New Naratif (where Dr Thum and Ms Han are the managing director and editor-in-chief respectively).

OSEA Pte Ltd was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Observatory Southeast Asia Ltd, a company incorporated in the United Kingdom last April. The latter owns New Naratif, which was launched in September last year.

In April, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority said it rejected the application as it would be "contrary to Singapore's national interests".

 

SDP DISTANCES ITSELF

In his Facebook post, Mr Seah also criticised Ms Teo Soh Lung, who commented on a Facebook video by socio-political website The Online Citizen that "Singapore is part of Malaya la".

Mr Seah had noted that Ms Teo is with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and questioned the opposition party's position on the matter.

Ms Teo had contested the 2011 General Election (GE) under the SDP banner. However, the SDP clarified on Saturday that neither Ms Teo nor Dr Thum are its members, and they "do not speak for the party or represent us in any way". It said: "We did not have anything to do with the meeting (with Dr Mahathir) nor did we say anything about the matter. We only learnt about Dr Thum's meeting with Dr Mahathir through reports in the media."

The SDP added: "It is, therefore, bewildering that Mr Seah would drag the SDP into the issue. One can only conclude that the People's Action Party MP is being cheeky."

The opposition party, in turn, slammed Mr Seah for "making wild insinuations about the SDP". It said: "We have this message for Mr Seah and his party: Such a clumsy stunt to distract Singaporeans from the real issues is not going to work."

On Sunday, Mr Shanmugam noted that the SDP "obviously wants to completely disassociate itself with Ms Teo's comments". "I think that is understandable because she suggests that we are part of Malaya. And they say she is not a member of SDP. All we know on the record is that she was a (electoral) candidate for SDP... and seems to have been closely associated with the SDP," he said. 

Stressing that issues of sovereignty are "extremely important", Mr Shanmugam added: "We ought to take clear positions on that. Dr Thum also seems to have... implied something, broadly along similar lines (as Ms Teo) or could be interpreted as implying along similar lines."

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