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A flyer drop, a political lowblow

By Ariffin Sha

I couldn't help shaking my head when I read the TODAY Report of how PAP 'activists' distributed fliers in the middle of the night which bombarded residents of Aljunied GRC with messages against the Workers' Party.

I still clearly recall the robust parliamentary debates between the powers that be and Workers' Party over the definition of "constructive" politics not too long ago.  During that debate, PM Lee offered his definition of constructive politics:

Politicians must also be subject to scrutiny - but "not through anonymous innuendos and insinuation, especially online, that deter good people from entering politics".

Instead, scrutiny should be conducted "responsibly, through open, direct raising of pertinent questions, and establishing the truth, to prevent incompetent, dishonest or self-serving people from getting into positions of responsibility".

"Certainly, if ever a People's Action Party MP were accused of making false and untruthful statements, I would get to the bottom of the matter. And if he didn't do anything about it, I will come to conclusions about the sort of MP he or she was,"

Who are these 'activists'?

Before we go any further here, let us first establish who these 'activists' are. The term can be confusing as the PAP often labels potential candidates as activists and not candidates.

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PAP's Victor Lye leads the Bedok Reservoir-Punngol Ward for the PAP in Aljunied GRC.

The five branch chairmen of Aljunied GRC are seen in the photo below. Mr Muralidharan Pillai (Paya Lebar Branch) is sitting on the left while Mr Chua Eng Leong (Eunos Branch) is sitting on the right. In the second row, Victor Lye (Bedok Reservoir Branch), Ms Chan Hui Yuh (Serangoon Branch) and Kahar Abu Hassan (Kaki Bukit Branch), stand from left to right.

The 5 Branch Chairmen from PAP Aljunied
The five Branch Chairmen from PAP's Aljunied team.

When Mr Pillai was contacted, he shamelessly confirmed that the distribution of flyers were a ground-up initiative and that they had nothing to hide. He even added that they planned to distribute the flyers throughout Aljunied GRC.

It would be foolish to think that this "groung-up inititaive" did not take instructions or, at the very least, draw inspiration from the top echelons of the Party. At the very least, there is a good chance that the five Chairmen were involved, given that Mr Pillai can assure a GRC-wide initiative.

Content of the flyers

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The flyers in question

Titled 'What You Should Ask WP’s Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council', the flyer – in English and Chinese, and complete with a chart – compared AHPETC’s managing agent rates with those of some PAP town councils. It also carried quotes by the Law Minister Shanmugam who said that "they (Workers' Party) overpaid its friends at FMSS by at least S$6.4million."

As though the relentless smears and sound-bytes directed at the Workers' Party in Parliament was not enough, the PAP seems to have gone one step further (and lower as far as decorum is concerned), to take a cheapshot at the Workers' Party.

Let us not kid ourselves, this is nothing but an appalling political lowblow.

Is the kind of "constructive politics" that the secretary-general of the PAP was talking about? Are these the "party values" that PAP Aljunied Branch Chairman Victor Lye boasted about?

However, I'm confident that most Singaporeans be able to see through the PAP's antics. Just like how the residents of Aljunied GRC "shurgged off" the AHPETC 'Debate' in Parliament, I have no doubts that they too will be able to vividly see the true colors of the powers that be.

Destructive politics

Such tactics are not new. A cursory glance of Singapore's political histroy will make it clear to any reasonable observer that low-blows have been an integral part of the PAP's political arsenal.

From poking fun at Mr Chiam See Tong's 'O' Level results, to the liberal use of defamation suits, PAP made no qualms about hiding it's intentions to make life tough for those who oppose its regime.

PAP's Secretary General pledging to 'fix' those that oppose it
PAP's Secretary General pledging to 'fix' the oppositon

Does the PAP honestly expect a society bred from one of, if not the, world's best education systems to fall for such lowly tactics? From the look of things, that seems to be that case. This is a blatant insult to the intelligence of the populace.

Here was what Mr Seah, a resident of Aljunied GRC, had to say upon receiving the flyers,

"Everything in the flyer is directed at WP. It is quite obvious that it is from the PAP.”

I believe my words from an earlier article bear repeating here,

When one takes a step back and watch events unfold in our socio-political sphere, it would be close to impossible not to notice a sense of hypocrisy with regards to the standards the PAP holds to those who oppose it and the standards it holds itself to. They won’t ever admit it any-time soon, but they too are politicking as much as, or even more, than those whom they accuse of politicking.

This incident is a potent manifestation of the hypocrisy of the powers that be. Let me be the first to admit that although this is not surprising, it is indeed disappointing.

To say that we have heard more than enough about the AHPETC saga would be a gross understatement and I do respect the leaders of Workers' Party for not only readily accepting responsibility but to also take positive steps to set things right. This is what we need more of. We can certainly do less with hypocritical cries of 'harakiri.'

I'm all for holding the people in power accountable. However that need and urge from accountability must be genuine and develop from the people themselves. It should never be shoved down their throats, all the more not by people who, as another writer puts it, are currently suffering from a crisis of trust with the people.

The PAP knows very well that, although it preaches otherwise, politics is a dirty game. However it must not forget that although politics can be dirty, two can play at the game.

If opposition parties were to start distributing information on how residents can question their MPs, there would be no end to the list. And to be honest, there would be no end to the mud-slinging, as such tit-for-tat fights can continue as long as there is paper and mud to sling. And as a party with such a long history, as much as a history of policy missteps, the PAP is actually a lot move vulnerable to such antics.

If we choose to go down this road, the real losers will be none other than the people themselves. Such moves only makes a society ever more sceptical of its politicians, which is the trend in many nations across the globe. If voting was not compulsory, one wonders how many will trust their politicians enough to vote.

The crowd at a Workers' Party rally in 2011
The crowd at a Workers' Party rally in 2011.

Make no qualms about it, at the end of the day it is not the PAP or the opposition who define the political culture we develop. Ultimately, that decisions lies in the hands of the voters. Through the ballot box, the residents of Aljunied GRC will make clear whether they want to give a nod to the "values" of Victor Lye and team or continue supporting the Workers' Party.

And mud-slinging is politically impoverished, because it puts the accuser in a light much worse what he wishes to cast on the accused.