One of our readers reflects on how PAP has a history of over-pressing mistakes made by opposition parties, to their own campaign’s demise.
[Contributed by Yuen Chung Kwong]
In July 2020, 26 year old Raeesah Khan became the youngest person ever elected to the Singapore Parliament, when her team of four Workers Party candidates won the Group Representative Constituency of Sengkang. Things began to roll in their direction when fellow candidate Jamus Lim, a business professor in a private university, said the much quoted “we don’t want to deny government a mandate, just not give them a blank cheque”; shortly after, someone dug up a few radical statements previously made by Raeesah on social media, e.g.,
To a large extent, PAP was the victim of its own poor campaigning practice. As soon as Jamus Lim made his quote, the leader of the PAP team Ng Chee Meng, who as Secretary General of National Trade Union Congress holds cabinet minister rank, should have come out and said, on TV news or in a press interview, that PAP government never asked for blank cheques, that it catered to the needs of the people, that it always acted with prudence and managed public money carefully, etc etc; when the Raeesah incident broke, he should have said “just an old statement from inexperienced young person; we should move on; now I have all this experience and will do these wonderful things for Sengkang”.
He or someone else from the party should also have pointed out that Raeesah made incorrect statements, like the City Harvest leaders did not walk free: six of them went to jail for varying periods of timem, and the money they misdirected was re-constituted so was not actually stolen. Whether the statements she made were criminal, requiring police reports, might be interesting, but is only distracting in an election campaign.
James Gomez’s Electoral Forms
Going back a bit, PAP often showed a tendency to over-press a point during election campaigns: In 2006 Workers Party candidate James Gomez made a fool of himself with the false charge that the electoral office misplaced his forms – video records show he took the forms back and failed to submit them.
This is worthy of a few mentions to show his unworthiness for office, then dropped, but Lee Kuan Yew himself, followed by Wong Kan Seng and George Yeo, kept talking about it day after day. I believe this eventually cost them Aljunied, the electorate of Yeo: irritated voters punished his team in 2006, so Workers Party identified Aljunied as winnable, put up a strong candidate team and made much ground effort in the 5 years leading up to 2011 election, and won decisively.
Yaw Shin Leong’s Extramarital Relationship
Moving on a little, in 2012 a sudden opportunity opened up in Hougang: its Workers Party MP Yaw Shin Leong was caught having an extramarital relationship resulting in his expulsion from the party, which under Singapore parliamentary rules also means he became disqualified as MP.
During the by-election campaign, the correct PAP strategy should be to tell the voters the wonderful things PAP would do for the electorate if they make the switch, with just an occasional mention of PAP’s high standards in candidate selection – Hougang voters would all want to quickly forget their previous MP and had no need to be reminded of their previous poor choice.
Harping on this was not just unbeneficial but actually harmful. Making things worse, not long after, PAP’s Michael Palmer was also found to have been maritally unfaithful, with another by-election going to Workers Party.
Raeesah Khan’s Lie
However, ill fortune has since caught up with Workers Party: having been MP for over a year, Raeesah Khan chose to make up a story about personally seeing police not handling a rape victim with sensitivity – a story she actually picked up from a discussion forum – and persisted with the lie for several months. When she finally admitted the lie, she, like Yaw, faced expulsion so decided to resign both party membership.
However, this does not end the matter: there was the issue of whether party leaders, who knew about her lying quite early, merely failed to ask her to come clean, or actually told her it was all right to stay mum. While the public probably find the difference too small, and would again lose patience if the matter is pressed too far, parliamentary inquiry is still ongoing, and Workers Party cadres are probably waiting to see if the matter will end with a change of leadership when they vote at the next party conference.
So Jamus Lim was quite correct indeed: no one should be given a blank cheque; people in public life need to act with stringent prudence, and voters need to exercise constant vigilence. As the great gourmet Harry Truman said, If you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.