Since I have been away from home two senior civil servants have been investigated for corruption, a police officer jailed for disciplinary offences, a principal found to be involved in a prostitution syndicate, and an opposition Member of Parliament (MP) accused of adultery, expelled from his party and skipped town. And now there’s going to be a by-election.
Bloody hell, can’t anyone take care of things while I’m gone? Don’t worry my Singapore I’ll be home soon!
Jokes aside, this by-election is big news. I don’t think anything like this has happened in Singapore before. For Singaporeans who haven’t had that much of a chance to vote, we’ve suddenly got an election glut – General Elections, Presidential Election and now a by-election!
Beyond the by-election, though, there are so many points of discussion surrounding the whole issue that I scarcely even know where to begin.
An avoidable situation
Many people have praised the Worker’s Party for their accountability and transparency in expelling Yaw Shin Leong, but this whole situation could have been quite easily avoided if it had been handled better in the first place.
Firstly, I’d like to make clear that whether Mr Yaw did or did not engage in extramarital affairs is something for him and his family to work out. It’s certainly none of our business. Although they need to be accountable to the people in professional matters, politicians are also just human beings who have their right to their privacy in personal matters. Mr Yaw is certainly under no obligation to spill the beans to Singaporeans, or even to his party.
But that doesn’t mean that the sullen silence and disappearance from public view was the right tack for Mr Yaw and the WP to take. They could have just issued a statement from the very beginning to address the issue, saying that the allegations concerned Mr Yaw’s private life and therefore he was exercising his right not to respond to them, and that he would continue to serve his constituents and country with dedication. They could have taken the high road and shifted the emphasis back onto Mr Yaw’s commitment to his work.
Unfortunately their silence, followed by the terse announcement of Mr Yaw’s resignation from the WP’s Central Executive Committee, just played straight into the ideal that politicians should be perfect, righteous puritans, and that there is something to hide (as opposed to that something being none of anyone’s business in the first place).
Thanks to this failure to respond quickly and decisively, rumours and allegations were allowed to spread all over the place, making Mr Yaw and the party look worse and worse. The way I see it is that it finally got to the point where the party simply decided that the political expedience of getting rid of this PR nightmare was worth the risk of losing Hougang SMC in a by-election (they must be fairly confident about holding on to it, though, or they wouldn’t have let it go like that). The fact that he probably pissed them off big-time by not showing up at the meeting definitely didn’t help things.
In a way I do think it’s a pity, because apart from this whole fiasco, there hasn’t really been any indication that Mr Yaw has been incompetent or unsuitable for his position as an MP, or that he has been unable to serve his people well.
When will Hougang be represented, Mr Prime Minister?
After the news broke about Mr Yaw’s expulsion, Lee Hsien Loong said that there is no fixed time within which an election must be called. He said that he would consider the matter carefully, but that ”there are many other issues on the national agenda right now”.
This confuses me. If there are many important issues on the national agenda that need to be discussed, shouldn’t the electing of a new representative for Hougang SMC be a matter of the utmost urgency? Does the Prime Minister not see a problem with the fact that a whole constituency will be unrepresented when these issues are discussed, if he doesn’t call a by-election soon?
What’s the point of electing a representative for the residents of Hougang SMC only after all the issues have already been discussed?
Khaw gets very happy and self-pwns in the process
The PAP’s chairman Khaw Boon Wan has certainly got a kick out of this whole thing, and jumped out of his office/cubby-hole/ivory tower with all guns blazing. Unfortunately for him, one gun was pointed at his own foot.
In his criticism of the Worker’s Party, he went as far as to say that there is no difference between public and private life once a person enters politics. NO. DIFFERENCE.
This is not something I ever expected a politician to say. This is something I expected unscrupulous journalists and editors to say at the Leveson Inquiry while under investigation for phone hacking and bad media practices.
By saying this Mr Khaw has pretty much thrown the doors open to discussion, gossip and probing into every aspect of a PAP member’s life by anyone and everyone. Woe betide a PAP member who puts a single foot out of the extremely taut tightrope Mr Khaw has just put up. Which, of course, makes his colleague K Shanmugam’s actions (see here and here) a bit funny.
When I first heard the news about Yaw’s expulsion, I tweeted this as a joke:
I don’t care, #hougangbyelection is not a real election until Tan Jee Say suddenly decides to run as an independent candidate (or joins WP).
— Kirsten Han (@kixes) February 15, 2012
And guess what? Apparently Tan Jee Say really would like to contest in the Hougang by-election!
I know Singaporeans are very excited by the sudden surge in elections, but he is really overdoing it. The man’s an election addict.
If I had been in Singapore during the Presidential Election, I would have voted for Tan Jee Say, because of his strong and clear stance on the death penalty (unlike all the answers the other candidates gave, the current President’s response being the most rage-inducing). But this is a joke; if Mr Tan contests this elections it would just show everyone that he’s really just hungry for the power of having any position, as opposed to a sincere wish to serve Singaporeans. It’s very buay pai seh, you know?
The other person who is eyeing the seat is Frankie Low, who stood as a candidate in West Coast GRC with the Reform Party during the GE. I met him at their first rally as a West Coaster, and wasn’t particularly convinced.
The Singapore Democratic Party has already announced that they will not be contesting in the by-election. The Reform Party has put out a very long and rambly release that nevertheless raises good points on the urgent need for a by-election and calls for an independent Elections Commission. What they didn’t say, though – and what everyone really wants to know – is whether they will be contesting. The National Solidarity Party is going to wait and see and the Singapore People’s Party are probably not going to contest.
And just like that, election fever is in the air again! Just hurry up and call the by-election, PM Lee!
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