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GE 2011 – going down the sewers already?

Howard Lee/

And so it begins. Lacking the reasonable position to call into doubt the quality of opposition candidates, the ruling People's Action Party has resorted once again to slime-balling.

In 1997, the target was Tang Liang Hong, allegedly a Chinese chauvinist. In 2006, James Gomez allegedly dishonest. And now, on the same day when nomination day for the 2011 elections were announced, we read in the national broadsheet that similar shadows have been cast on Chen Show Mao, by far the most qualified candidate from the private sector to be contesting on the Workers' Party's (WP) ticket.

“From available information, Mr Chen has spent 40 of his 50 years out of Singapore… He now turns up and asks Singaporeans to elect him as a Member of Parliament. Surely, voters have a right to know from the Workers' Party if such a candidate can identify with the aspirations of Singaporeans and has a stake in our future?”

- Dr Ng Eng Hen, Organising Secretary (Special Duties), People's Action Party

I can be accepting about the Straits Times' forum writers asking for Chen to justify his intentions. Indeed, they have the right to know more about the candidates they wish to vote for.

I can even be ambivalent of ST's institutional amnesia, for whatever editorial constraints they might have. One moment, they clearly quoted Chen about his affinity with Singapore, and the next, published not just a full article of Ng comments and the WP's refusal to comment, but also the verbatim of Ng's letter in the same issue. No back reference, just a carry-through of Ng’s statement that WP has “brushed it aside”. But let’s just let that slip for the moment.

Conversely, I find myself grossly offended by the antics of the PAP in yet another attempt at character assault on formidable opponents. All these years, we have voted into power a party that has never been able to fend off the best fielded candidate in elections without resorting to character assault, questioning their motives, social labeling, and name calling, when there is no justifiable need to. I know politics is dirty, but to do this repeatedly is really becoming shameless, and for the electorate, tiring.

As such, consider this article a firm plea to the PAP to cease proceeding further down this route of baseless and irritating character assault on Chen, for the following reasons and the good of public interest:

  1. It reflects hypocrisy of two key policies that have only recently been highlighted as important to our national fabric – the value of National Service, and the positive integration of new citizens. Eat your own dog food, and if you expect Singaporeans to swallow it whole, do it yourself and take it (i.e. commitment to nation) with a pinch of salt.
  2. It is an insult to every Singaporean son who have served NS, and every new citizen who is genuine about and committed to making Singapore their home. Such accusations basically attempt to say no amount of sweating (in the former) and swearing (in the later) means much for your citizenship – everyone effectively needs to publicly declare their loyalty and allegiance to the country, or so help them God, before they can, well, do anything that remotely requires your commitment and patriotism.
  3. We have seen this in the case of Gomez in 2007, where the swing of votes to WP was attributed to sympathy for Gomez and the ground perception that PAP was bullying him. A retarded excuse for the PAP to gain the moral high ground, when there could really be a case of the opposite (i.e. the framing of Gomez’s personality helped to sway votes back towards the PAP) or a real ground preference for WP.
  4. Asking citizens to follow this line of reasoning is absolutely ridiculous and counter-productive to the election process. Compared to suspicions cast on a candidate’s ability which can be quantified and measured against other candidates (e.g. years of life experience), this train of thought borders on questioning a candidate's loyalty to the nation, which is near impossible to prove without a credible lie-detector test, and only confuses the electorate. If we begin to question loyalty, should we also not do the same for all candidates from all parties? If the willingness to serve is already a plus, would not contesting in an opposition camp, where the odds of winning are lower, speak more of dedication to cause than if a candidate aligns with the ruling party with a better chance of winning? Should we then give opposition candidates "bonus points" for loyalty? Seriously, can it even be quantified that way?

I have a healthy respect for Ng as a public officer, particularly his years in the education ministry. But even if we give this blatant misuse of the media the benefit of the doubt and dismiss it as off-beat comments made in the heat of electioneering (technically not true, since we have yet to even get into polling week), such comments do not portray Ng positively as a man of logic and reason. It should not be oblivious to Singaporeans, so he should begin worrying for his seat.

At the end of the day, if the PAP is thinking they will be third time lucky, think again. Seriously, voters might be confused, but we are not daft. This has gone on long enough, and it is time we focus on the election issues, not the election personalities.

Interesting tidbits (call it coincidental):

  • Tang, Gomez and Chen were all candidates of WP.
  • All three were established professionals with good educational backgrounds, and none were from the public sector – criteria that the PAP is still struggling with today.
  • The character assaults all took place when WP was contesting in "hot seats" that ended with close margins – Cheng San GRC for Tang, and Aljunied GRC for Gomez and potentially Chen.

The writer completed his thesis using the media misrepresentation of Tang Liang Hong as a case study, and has closely followed the “James Gomez saga” in 2007. Whack his opinions, but try not to muck-rake his background research.

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