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New candidates, but no principles?

PAP's first 3 new faces (Picture from Straits Times)

TOC Editorial /

The ruling party’s attempt to create some excitement with their new slate of candidates might actually have done the opposite: entrench negative stereotypes of the party as one that encourages uniform thought and economic growth at the expense of principles.

Ever obliging, the government friendly Straits Times gave them three full pages (including the front page) of coverage.

While the faces were fresh, the message was stale. One bragged about the values he lost, the other spurned his father’s legacy and defended detention without trial, and the third made nary an impression.

The PAP has been touting “renewal” as the watchword of this GE. The first three candidates suggest that the PAP might have confused this with the word “replacement”. Unless the PAP is pursuing a strategy of getting their least attractive candidates through the public glare before scrutiny shifts, it is difficult to see what value the new candidates bring to the table.

Mr Principal private secretary, what are your principles?

Mr Ong Ye Kung, the assistant Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), claims political pedigree from having been the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary.

The Straits Times tells us:

“In 2004, when he was the principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, he told Mr Lee he disagreed with the idea of casinos in Singapore. Later, he changed his mind when he saw the thousands of jobs they brought in”.

A thinking member of the public would come to the conclusion that Mr Ong, like several PAP members of Parliament who opposed the casino, objected to it on principled grounds. However, Mr Ong seems keen to give the impression that these principles count for nothing in the face of bringing in jobs.

The logical question to ask would be what type of industries Mr Ong would be willing to tolerate to bring in jobs.  Vice, anyone?

Mr Ong’s story of a Farewell to Principles brings a wrenching reminder of how passionately some PAP MPs spoke in Parliament opposing the casino: that passion counted for nothing when they folded like flimsy deckchairs in the face of the party whip.

New candidates bringing change from the inside? Dream on.

Detention without trial? Yes please!

Mr Dominic Puthucheary’s son, Janil, waxed lyrical about “pragmatic implications for our security, for our country” when explaining how indefinite detention without trial was necessary.

Quite apart from the fact that Mr Puthucheary raises shades of American neo-conservatives who talk National Security but have never served in the military, the historically educated would have to wonder whether Mr Puthucheary would be able to say exactly the same thing with a straight face if his father was Mr Said Zahari. Mr Zahari was a contemporary of the elder Mr Puthucheary, and who was held without trial for 17 years.

Mr Janil Puthucheary seems keen to write off the government’s sweeping powers under the Internal Security Act (ISA) as a historical aberration that is now used solely for the noble purpose of fighting terrorism.

If the younger Puthucheary had been in Singapore at the end of the 1980s, he would have lived through first-hand the government’s abuse of the ISA to lock up Catholic lay persons and opposition party sympathizers as Marxists. Ironically, part of the reason he wasn’t in Singapore was probably the Singapore government’s ban on the elder Mr Puthucheary entering Singapore.

Perhaps poetically, several of those who bore the brunt of the government’s abuse of the ISA might be fielded as opposition candidates in this coming election. It will now be up to the silver haired Ms Teo Soh Lung and Mr Vincent Cheng, as well as Mr Michael Fernandez from the elder Mr Puthucheary’s generation to remind young Janil of the legacy he has spurned.

It will be the ultimate inversion of the PAP’s claim to be representing new ideas for their new candidate to receive tutelage in progressive politics from his elders in the opposition. One wonders whether his promise to “discuss his views on the matter (the ISA) within the party” will cut any ice.

And again, as a post-script, a promise that the party line would be toed:

“The PAP works on the basis of cohesiveness and internal discussions for a united front”.