India lodged a diplomatic protest with Singapore over Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks about the number of Indian lawmakers facing criminal charges, potentially testing ties between the two countries that share a key economic partnership.
New Delhi raised the issue with the city-state’s high commissioner Thursday, a senior government official said, seeking anonymity citing rules for speaking to the media. The official said Lee’s remarks were uncalled for.
Singapore enjoys a strong economic and bilateral relationship with New Delhi as well as cultural links given a local Indian population. While it isn’t the norm to summon envoys from key partners, India is sensitive about comments on its domestic politics especially with a slew of local elections currently underway.
Lee was delivering a speech on Wednesday, encouraging lawmakers to allow public prosecutors to consider initiating criminal proceedings against the leader of the opposition over alleged untruths. He warned that such lies have contributed to the erosion of democracies elsewhere.
“They start out as healthy democracies, with idealism and zeal,” he said. “But over time, the tone of the society changes. All too easily — a slip here, a blind eye there, a fudge, a trim — and gradually things go downhill.”
“Nehru’s India has become one where, according to media reports, almost half the MPs in the Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them, including charges of rape and murder,” he said referencing India’s parliament. “Though it is also said that many of these allegations are politically motivated.”
India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi wasn’t immediately available for a comment. The Singaporean Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Friday.
Lee’s remarks came ahead of a vote to refer the leader of the opposition to the public prosecutor after a committee stacked with ruling People’s Action Party lawmakers found that he “told untruths” during a testimony. They were in connection with a lying scandal involving a former member of parliament. Parliament passed the motion moments later.
The issue with Singapore comes more than a week after New Delhi summoned the South Korean ambassador over Hyundai Motor Co.’s Twitter accounts that tweeted on Kashmir Solidarity day — a holiday observed in Pakistan to show support for people in the India-administered part of the region. Kashmir is a sensitive topic for both India and Pakistan who have fought multiple wars over the region. South Korea’s foreign minister called his Indian counterpart and regretted the “offense.”
Separately, India this week banned dozens of apps it said was of Chinese origin, including Sea Ltd.’s marquee game Free Fire, citing security concerns, people with knowledge of the matter said. Sea was founded in Singapore by Chinese-born founders who became Singaporean citizens.