TOC Editorial: The Steve Tan debacle – Singaporeans deserve a full account

Singaporeans are none the wiser after PM Lee’s “explanation” of why PAP candidate for Tampines was dropped at the last minute this morning.

Implying that Steve Tan’s withdrawal had to do with a “weakness” that had slipped through the PAP selection system without specifying what exactly it was, PM Lee said:

‘We’re looking for many attributes, strengths and capabilities, and also testing for weaknesses, and there’s no process which is 100 per cent accurate’.

Further indicating that there was a significant problem with Steve Tan’s candidacy but continuing to sound vague, PM Lee continued: ‘the party and Mr Tan could have ‘pretended there was no problem and just carried on’. The obvious implication was that there was a “problem” with Steve Tan.

Bad as the Steve Tan debacle looks now, unless PM Lee acts swiftly to openly and thoroughly explain why Steve Tan was withdrawn, the backlash to the PAP will go far deeper.

A “rigorous selection system”?

After spending a significant amount of media oxygen querying whether Worker’s Party (WP) leader Low Thia Kiang had done his “due diligence” on star candidate Chen Show Mao, this is the most embarrassing and emphatic last minute candidate withdrawal in recent election memory.

The debacle was so comprehensive that when Mr Baey Yam Keng was switched to take Steve Tan’s place at the last minute, Mr Baey’s grassroots leaders were reported in the mainstream press to be left in a state of shock, many in tears. The election posters in Tanjong Pagar could not be deployed as a result, as they had Mr Baey’s face on them.

The natural conclusion Singaporeans will come to is that for such a ground-breaking decision to have been made, the Steve Tan’s “problem” must have been a significant one.

Singaporeans will ask the natural question: if Mr Steve Tan came within minutes of getting on a PAP slate and entering Parliament on the coattails of senior GRC Minister Mah Bow Tan, who else on the PAP slate might be inadequately vetted?

Already, Singaporeans have been outraged by the selection of Ms Tin Pei Ling to stand with the popular SM Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade.

This will now be exacerbated by another unintended consequence of the Steve Tan debacle: the fluke entry of a complete unknown into Parliament, Dr Chia Shi Lu.

Not yet as bad as it gets

Ironically, Dr Chia is the only candidate of any party not introduced to the public to date, and yet has had the good fortune to have been fielded in the only uncontested GRC in Singapore. Even the eccentric Zeng Guo Yan who turned up at a nomination centre today and tore up his nomination forms has given one interview on RazorTV, albeit with a parrot on his shoulder.

Dr Chia’s entry into Parliament could come to exemplify the worst excesses of the unrepresentative GRC system. It also completely neutralizes the PAP argument that the opposition only turns up during election time: Dr Chia only turned up on nomination day!

Finally, Mr Baey’s grassroots leaders and constituents deserve an explanation. They have had no chance to size their new MP up, let alone vote for him. To the broader electorate, the refusal so far to give a forthright explanation can come to remind them of the least likeable aspects of the PAP’s style of decision making: its’ opaque and condescending tone.

Unless a full and frank accounting for what went wrong with Steve Tan is given, this debacle has the potential to set a very inauspicious note for the PAP’s election campaign.