Thursday, December 13, 2012

Palmergate: Of politics and sex scandals 2012

Barely 10 months has passed since Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from the Workers' Party over his personal indiscretions and it seems that another MP has fallen prey to sexual temptations - this time from the ruling party. Michael Palmer, Speaker of Parliament and MP for Punggol-East SMC, has tendered his resignation from the PAP over "improper conduct" with a former employee of the People's Association.

PAP to dance to its own tune?

In some way, Yaw's affair has set a precedence for things to come and all eyes will now be on the Prime Minister and his party to see how they will manage their way out of this political calamity. This is especially so since the PAP had been very quick and vocal in criticizing the WP for letting its Hougang constituents down and for the lack of transparency and accountability in the way it handled the fiasco. Little would the PAP expect that the tables will be turned on them months later, and that they would have to hold themselves to the same standards imposed upon the WP.

To their credit, Palmer has taken responsibility over his indiscretion with his resignation and the PAP appears to be in control of the situation by nipping it in the bud with a swift response. This is a stark contrast to how Yaw refused to admit his blunder and the temporary lapse of accountability by the WP before it decided to take action against Yaw.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the PAP will continue to walk the talk and reclaim political ground lost in the last by-elections. As it is, Low Thia Khiang's reactions to Palmer's affair has been nothing but fair and distinguished, and this strategy of political magnanimity will not only make PAP's reactions to Yaw's affair appear as petty attacks, but more importantly allow WP to claim the moral high-ground.

On the prospect of another by-election

Besides looking to see if the PAP would dance to its own tune, Singaporeans will also want to know if the PM will call for a by-election in Punggol-East SMC, and if so, when. While the judiciary had recently clarified that the PM has the unfettered discretion over the decision of a by-election, it will not reflect well on him should he decide against it or postpone it indefinitely. On the other hand, this prospect of another by-election would mean that Singapore would have undergone 4 election processes in 2 years, each within months of each other. Election fatigue and unresolved issues such as transportation, housing and an increasingly foreign population would mean that the PM would have to play his cards very carefully if he hopes to win the game.

Calls for a by-election have already been made by opposition parties (WP, SPP, RP, SDP) and Singaporeans, both itching once again to exercise their democratic rights to vote. The ball is now in your court, Prime Minister.

On the relationship between the PAP and PA

Despite the official rhetoric that the PA is a non-partisan organisation, it is commonly perceived by Singaporeans to serve the political interests of the PAP, and it is not hard to see why. From the denied use of community facilities by opposition parties, to the clandestine affair between a PAP MP and a PA employee, the PAP appears to be figuratively and literally in bed with the PA. This impression that the PAP abuses its position and authority to gain political mileage at the grassroots level not only goes against its pillars of intergrity, accountability and transparency, but could even go as far as to augment Singaporeans' support for the opposition parties with their underdog status. As such, it would be prudent for the PAP to maintain its distance from the PA, or at least be perceived to be so.

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