All eyes will be on Hougang – the lightning rod of the nation

~ By Jen ~

Singaporeans living in the Tanjong Pagar GRC must be turning green with envy upon hearing that Hougang residents will get to vote again for what may seem like the umpteen time in Singapore’s arid political landscape.

The sudden announcement by the Government yesterday that there will be a by-election in Hougang took most people (except the PAP) by surprise as it will be held in exactly two and a half weeks on May 26.  This might have set a record of sorts for giving one of the shortest notice for a by-election.  Fair or Foul, this decision seems to hint at nonchalance in some ways – "Ok lah, you guys bug us for a by-election, let's get it over with".

Whatever the case, the nation is abuzz with the coming by-election. Some political analysts have questioned the timing of the by-election Nomination Day which coincides with the date of the High Court hearing to review a suit filed by a Hougang resident that the Prime Minister does not have "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether and when to call a by-election.  (Heard some 4-D pundits are even placing bets on this significant date – 0526).

One camp would say it is a brilliant move to hold the by-election so soon to distract from the High Court hearing, to show the people that the PM is "fair" in calling for the by-election and perhaps to even render the court case arguments as moot. To others however, the actions and words by the ruling party on the by-election so far show less of brilliant political strategy but more of reactive behaviour by one pushed into a corner.  The timing of the Nomination day and Polling Day is one sign while the statement by PM Lee on the by-election on 9 May yesterday is another.

Since the announcement was made yesterday, we have been reading in all the mainstream media and online, certain allegations being repeated ad nauseam, picked up from PM's statement on the by-election :- a) that until now the Workers Party (WP) has not given Singaporeans a full and proper account of what happened or why it was first silent before expelling the Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong b) that WP has not apologised for Yaw's behaviour and …the clincher c) Both the WP and Yaw have "let down all those who voted for him" and for causing the by-election effect.

I am no political expert but even as a layman, I find this political strategy of running down WP pretty lame and these allegations pretty groundless. Going by the PM’s statements, the party that groomed and appointed Yaw is responsible for his behaviour including his alleged sexual indiscretions. And going by this reasoning, every company that has hired philandering CEOs and management staff (and there are many out there) is responsible for their immoral personal acts and every Board should be held accountable and apologise for what happens in the private lives of their employees! As for alleging that WP has not fully accounted for the situation, I find it puzzling as they have expelled Yaw and held a very public press conference to explain what happened. What else is there to explain? And to borrow the PM's words, aren't there more important national issues to focus on?

If we look back over the years, there have been several serious faux pas made by key personnel within the Government and some statutory boards. I don't recall any apology being made nor accountability been taken by the bosses, company, board nor party for their staff's indiscretions.  The PAP have had their share of MPs who fell from grace over the decades including ex-ministers Tan Kia Gan, Wee Toon Boon and Teh Cheang Wan (then Minister for National Development) who committed suicide before being officially charged for corruption in 1986.

And more recently in a juicy scandal, two local top ranking public servants are being investigated by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau for corruption and sexual misconduct with the same married woman no less. The top guns who have been disgraced are the former chiefs of the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Central Narcotics Bureau.  And yet, the focus all this while for such cases has always been on the culprits and never really been on the organisation that hired them.  And so it should be to a large extent as a stringent recruitment process can only do so much. Human beings are fallible, some more so than others, and they should take responsibility for their own actions when it comes to acts of immorality.

Following on this logic, it is little wonder that some eyebrows have been raised by the PM's comments on the WP in his by-election statement. Are they scrapping the barrel for ammunition against WP in the by-election? One wonders.

The next couple of weeks is going to be exciting, festive almost, as the whole nation will be riveted by the campaigning and by-election in this little stalwart constituency.  Hougang has become a lighting rod for everyone – the feisty residents who will be voting, Singaporeans in general (both for and against), the Workers Party who will fight to retain the seat and for the PAP which will do its utmost to wrench this seat away.

How will the Hougang people vote at the end of the day? That is their right and their personal decision. But I hope that when they go to the polls, they will realise it is not about the Yaw incident at the end of the day but about the new MP and party they want and the larger national concerns at stake.  It will be a nail-biting election, somewhat like what the people in Aljunied GRC faced last year in the GE when they had to make their choice and the whole nation was watching closely. But that is what true democracy is about – Choice. And we should be relieved we have that in Hougang.

What GE2011 has shown us without a doubt is that having good political choices, alternative views and credible parties can do Singapore a whole lot of good. Diverse views get represented and aired, fresh ideas come to the fore and the people become more engaged in the building of their country.

It is early days still even if some small progress has been made and the ruling party seems to be listening a little more over the past year.  To ensure the people's voices continue to be heard, many Singaporeans believe we will need more good alternative party representations in Parliament and to retain this precious Hougang seat.

The residents in Hougang have nothing to lose really as they have the devoted attention of two political parties. If WP were to win the by-election, the residents there will continue to be courted aggressively by the PAP and they will still get their free porridge.

This commentary first appeared on Jentrified Citizen Blog. TOC thanks Jen for allowing us to reproduce in full.