WP sets a high bar for the conduct of politicians
Written by Ng E-Jay
16 February 2012
“Bold”, “Decisive”, “Courageous”, were some of the words that came to mind when the Worker’s Party (WP) announced today that it has expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong from the party. After so many weeks of sullen silence and refusal to address valid concerns by the people and the media, WP has finally acted to protect its integrity and begin the path of healing.
I am, of course, sad that an opposition MP has been compelled to vacate his seat a mere nine months after his term had begun. This is the last thing Singapore, and in particular opposition supporters, need at a time when our political development is still in the adolescent stage. Nonetheless, WP has done the right thing and has chosen an honourable course of action.
One natural question that one could ask: why the lengthy silence, which only served to cause supporters to become potentially disheartened, and create the image of a party that was unwilling to face the hard truths and answer the difficult questions?
This question was finally put to rest during the press conference held by WP on Wednesday afternoon. In the party statement (English version) which was read out by Ms Sylvia Lim, WP stated that Mr Yaw had failed to account to the party and the residents of Hougang, and in so doing, had broken the trust and faith of both the party and the people.
Elaborating further during the question and answer period, Ms Sylvia Lim stressed that opportunities had been given to Mr Yaw to explain himself to the party leadership and shed light on those allegations of personal misconduct. However, Mr Yaw had failed to take any of those opportunities to come clean to the party leadership.
Mr Pritam Singh also explained that when more individuals started coming forward with stories concerning Mr Yaw, silence no longer became an option, and the obligation to be upfront to the people, to be upfront to the party, to the voters, took a new turn. However, Mr Yaw continued with his silence, and this was inconsistent with the standards WP expects of its elected MPs.
Mr Low Thia Khiang also chipped in during the press conference to emphasize WP’s principled approach. He said that Mr Yaw had contributed significantly to the party, and his expulsion had been a difficult decision to make, but nonetheless the party could not compromise the basic fundamental principles it believed in. In taking this action, WP and its MPs can stand tall, hold their head up and take the PAP government to account (Mr Low’s own words).
In my opinion, WP’s silence during the entire saga and its radical decision to expel Mr Yaw were very well answered, and should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that WP acted in a measured and yet very firm manner to uphold its values.
Two words that kept cropping up during the entire press conference were “transparency” and “accountability“. WP has dispelled any festering notion that it might be non-transparent or unaccountable. In addition, it has set a very high bar for personal conduct of politicians. The spotlight now must be shone on the PAP, and it is now the PAP that has to try to match up to WP’s standards of transparency and accountability.
The Constitution does not provide any specific time frame within which a by-election must be called should an MP vacate his seat for any reason.
From the looks of it, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is not enthusiastic about calling for a by-election in Hougang. He told the media that he would consider the matter carefully, but that there were “many other issues on the national agenda right now“.
This sounds evasive, and indeed, irresponsible. The fact that Hougang residents are no longer being represented in Parliament, even if Aljunied MPs and their own council are ready to serve their needs as residents, is an important issue that must be addressed quickly.
PM Lee also ungraciously took the opportunity to take a swipe at WP, saying: “… the Hougang SMC is vacant, as a result of what Mr Yaw Shin Leong has done, and the way the WP has handled the matter … the WP has let down the voters of Hougang.”
This statement is nothing more than petty politicking. It is royally unfair as WP has made it abundantly clear that the episode was the fault of one man, and not the fault of collective party leadership.
And as a Sammyboy forummer so eloquently put it: “PM, do not forget that Yaw broke NO law of your PAP government and contravened NOTHING in the penal code, unlike your Teh Cheang Wan, Wee Toon Boon, and Choo Wee Khiang who were retained as MPs until the day they were charged. Choo WK, the uncle of Hougang’s Desmond Choo, was even speaking at PAP rallies while under police investigation. WP has a moral ground your PAP can never meet.”
Low: WP has not let voters down
Quick on the uptake, Mr Low Thia Khiang has responded by saying that WP has not let the people down, and that “whatever is wrong, we’ve put it right”. Mr Low was speaking to the media after being greeted by a very warm reception at Wednesday evening’s Meet-the-People session at Hougang Avenue 5.
PAP Chairman and Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan has also accused WP of “misleading” the voters of Hougang, and urged WP to “come clean” with the people what information they had about Mr Yaw prior to the May election. Mr Khaw also said that once a person enters politics, there is no difference between his or her public and private life.
Voters of Hougang being mislead by WP? Really? Then how about Bishan voters, who voted for then Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, only to see him resign from his ministerial post shortly after winning? How about Marine Parade voters, who voted for then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, only to see him step down from the cabinet and become Emeritus SM after his electoral victory was secured?
Do Mr Khaw’s statements even come close to being reasonable? You be the judge. I have no need to elaborate.
Rachel Zeng’s thoughts on the matter
(Editor’s Note: These are Rachel Zeng’s thoughts on the matter, which may differ from my own views. She has kindly allowed me to publish her opinions.)
It is unfortunate that the Workers’ Party has chosen this path although there are pros and cons in it. I find it a pity because Shin Leong had contributed so much towards the party in the past years and not to mention, being actively involved in civil society work prior to his political path. Surely there must be another way to go about addressing this issue? However of course, since I am not a member of WP or really close to any of them enough to gain privy of such information, I will not know if any other steps of inquiry have taken place. Then again, it will be helpful if WP can actually be transparent about what they have done regarding this issue (i.e., what were the actions taken prior to this), before they have decided to give Shin Leong the sack. I say this because they have chosen to sack him, a consequence that will not only affect Shin Leong but the constituency at large. In this way, I feel that WP has the responsibility to explain their actions with more details than what has been communicated in their written statement. Also, since they have stated that they believe in transparency, they should practice what they preach, shouldn’t they?
Personally, I feel that despite being a public figure, Shin Leong’s private life belongs entirely to where it belongs – PRIVATE. To be honest, I do not agree with infidelity unless the parties involve (including spouses) are mutually agreeable to being polygamous. However I do not agree that infidelity should be part of the criteria to judge one’s abilities to serve the people of Singapore as a politician since the alleged affairs happened with the apparent consensus between the alleged individuals and Shin Leong (note: infidelity is not a crime) but of course, this is just my opinion.
Perhaps what can be learned here is that facing rumours with silence (re: WP and Shin Leong) is not the best thing afterall. Perhaps what could have been done here is a K Shanmugam stunt: issuing TRE and the media with a letter from a legal representative instead. Well that works for K Shanmugam, why should it not work for Shin Leong too?
Then again, maybe they are more than that… but if that is the case, they should indeed have been more transparent.
With this, I wish WP the best for the by-election in Hougang, congratulate the PAP for having another chance to send a candidate to contest in the constituency and wish Shin Leong all the best for his endeavors. Maybe he can continue his socio-political work within civil society instead, which will also be of much benefit to the people of Singapore.