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The politics of invitation

So interesting! Now we have the politics of “invitation’’. When someone invites you to something, should you attend even if you don’t want to so as not to appear rude? How do you turn down an invitation graciously? For the inviting party, how to cancel an invite without provoking hurt feelings? Is there such a thing as “uninviting’’ someone?

We’ve all been invited to something or other or wish we had been invited – or not. Because it’s something almost everyone has experienced at one time or other, we all have a personal view on how to react to “troubling’’ invitations or non-invitations.

So being invited to a wedding means sending an ang pow even if you cannot attend the wedding. You don’t change your mind about attending something which you have been invited to at the last minute, especially if your presence had been catered for. If you have to, you apologise profusely.

When someone says “sorry, you were wrongly invited’’, you have a right to feel miffed and the inviting party should go red in the face. If the inviting party deliberately rescinds an invitation for no good reason other than “we changed our mind about having you here’’, then it’s a sure bet that the inviting party wants you to feel miffed.

So we have two sets of “invitations’’ in the news.

a)     The case of “sorry, you were wrongly invited’’

So PA chief Lim Swee Say calls Dr Tan Cheng Bock to say “Hey, sorry doc, someone in PA looked at the wrong list when we invited you to the Istana. Actually we just changed our policy to only invite ex-MPs who stepped down in 2011. Sorry, doc, you didn’t make the cut. Paiseh. So sorry. You left way too early in 2006’’.

Possible responses from Dr Tan:

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“I hope you sack the PA fella. Make you so paiseh like this. And do I get something in black-and-white since I already have the invitation card? I need to show my wife.’’

“It’s okay lah. I have better things to do on a Sunday night. Also, I know you just invited 1,000 pioneers and the Istana isn’t big enough. Wait a minute, I think I’m already 73 years old…’’

“It’s okay, I understand. Very hard to invite someone who almost became President to your party. Plus I was so popular when I was in the PAP that I was actually in the CEC. Plus I was also your top vote-getter for several elections. Plus everyone knows I am/was Goh Chok Tong’s very good friend – we go back so long. Plus it’s not nice if more people shake my hand than shake yours…’’

“Did I miss the memo? Did you write to the rest who are probably expecting to go again this year? You mean all us old-timers cannot go for free makan? Next time, make pot luck.’’

“Dear Swee Say, thank you for alerting me or I would have found myself without a seat on Sunday. That would have been even more embarrassing. Thank you for saving me some face.’’

Now Dr Tan has put out the invite fiasco on his FB. Seems he got all the details accurate because Mr Lim confirmed them. But Mr Lim pronounced himself surprised that Dr Tan made it public after accepting his explanation. Hmm…it’s to be expected that the PA would rather it be kept under wraps. But should it expect the other party to keep quiet simply because he accepted the explanation? If I have been “un-invited’’ to an important party which I have attended every year, I would be pretty unhappy too.   

It’s naive of PA to expect a seasoned politician like Dr Tan to roll over and play dead. Unless it extracted a promise from Dr Tan not to make it public? Cannot be. The PA can’t be so kiasi.

And it is one of the wonders of social media that anyone can have an audience. Imagine! Dr Tan would have had to issue a press release or call a press conference if he wanted to make his unhappiness public in the past – and he would still not be guaranteed a mention in the media. It is also one of wonders of social media that you need not answer queries from those online – Dear Doc, just how unhappy are you? Didn’t you expect this? Are you trying to make the G look bad? Going on social media guarantees him an audience – and forces the MSM’s hand too, especially since MSM seems to think that anything that has gone “viral’’ should be published.

I read MSM carefully today to see who else should have been “un-invited’’ but who still turned up. (I didn’t get invited – so I can’t tell lah) But it seems that PA has a second line of defence – only those ex-MPs who are still active in the grassroots can attend. So it seems the likes of Mr Andy Gan, a one-term MP, was invited.   

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What are Singaporeans to make of this? The PA can declare all it likes that it is non-partisan, and people will still believe it? It invited Mr Chiam See Tong though even though he is no longer an MP, hails from the Opposition and was never part of the PA grassroots. Well, very nice of the PA, especially since he made a good foil for its fiasco.

b)    The case of the “sorry, we just cancelled your invitation’’

So Singapore did a little tit-for-tat. You name a warship after MacDonald House bombers, I cancel your tickets to my air show. So the Indonesian Navy chief and his 100 officers or so won’t get to come here for the grand affair.  Mindef isn’t confirming the Indonesian media reports but it isn’t denying them either – which means they’re true.

Then it seems a meeting between Indonesia’s top military brass (including army and air force chiefs and a deputy minister) and Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing had to be re-scheduled, after which the Indonesians decided not to come. At least, that’s what I think it looks like from reading MSM. So the Indons “un-invited’’ themselves.

Said an Indon Defence ministry spokesman:  “We understand their concerns given public opinion in Singapore over recent developments…the deputy minister decided not to take up the invitation.’’

What to make of this? Well, since one invitation has been cancelled for the Navy chief, the airforce and army leaders can’t be expected to be thick-skinned enough to turn up. Or they want to signal “their’’ displeasure by not turning up even though the invitation still held. Or they were afraid(?) of coming to Singapore given the sentiments here? Or they didn’t want to get entangled with questions on why a frigate was named after bombers? Or they actually respect the sensitivities here. (You know…it’s not often that Singapore can actually use the term “insensitive’’ concerning a neighbours actions or words. It’s usually used against us…)

But ST said that an Indonesian air force team is scheduled to perform at the air show. Is this still on or off? Seems nothing’s changed. Hmmm…so we have Indon planes buzzing in our airspace at this time? Is this something to be concerned about or is this a reflection that both sides are NOT intending to take the naming saga too far and an expression of a solid foundation of military ties?   

Anyway, looks like there’s plenty of empty seats which Mindef could fill. It should use the PA’s “outdated’’ list of Istana invitees.


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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