In a Channel Newsasia forum on television on Tuesday night, just hours after candidates for the general election had filed their nomination papers, a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate unsheathed its knives and went on personal attacks on an opposition member.
Mr Lawrence Wong, representing the PAP in the forum, was talking about how Members of Parliament (MP) had to have not only qualities such as competence or capability, but also character.
“And character,” Mr Wong said, “if there are people who indeed fall short, then it is our duty to highlight these to Singaporeans.”
Then, referring to Dr Chee Soon Juan, who was also in the panel at the forum, Mr Wong raised an incident from 1996.
“You know, I remember what happened in 1996 because I was just starting work in the Civil Service,” Mr Wong said.
“Dr Chee made a written representation to a Select Committee in Parliament and eventually the committee found that the data presented was false and he was charged for lying, misleading the public and later also found to be in contempt of Parliament,” he added.
Mr Wong then said that “after so long I don’t believe Soon Juan has sort of explained what happened in the past or apologised for what happened.”
This prompted Dr Chee to rebut the accusation, by setting into context the incident.
“I think it was a very important issue that we had raised at that time, it was on medical subsidies, healthcare subsidies,” Dr Chee said. “And we are still the only party which has actually held the government to account. Don’t forget, at that time, the Minister of Health was George Yeo. And he had repeatedly apologised for some of the things that the government had gotten wrong then.
“So, that’s hugely important.
He then urged Mr Wong not to “cherry-pick some of the things which have come out of that Select Committee.”
“And don’t forget during those days there was no social media and the situation was very different from now and it was very difficult for us to get our word out,” Dr Chee said.
“I want you to at least not be partisan right now on this issue here.”
Mr Wong responded: “I don’t want to be partisan, so I’m just stating what is on public record. And as I said the public record shows that the Select Committee had found Dr Chee and several others of the SDP urm….”
Dr Chee, at this point, interjected: “Let us not pretend that the Select Committee was … impartial judge… it was made up of PAP MPs…”
Host Steven Chia stepped in and stopped the exchange.
“I’m sorry but this is not an issue… we want to look at other issues,” Mr Chia said. This is something else that I think you can discuss perhaps in private later on…”
On his Facebook page later, Dr Chee expressed disappointment at Mr Wong’s “outburst” on the programme.
” It was a bolt out of the blue when he cited a matter that happened 20 years ago to continue the PAP’s tactic of character-assassination,” Dr Chee said.
“His comment was not in keeping with the spirit and tone of the forum which, up until then, was a robust but civil debate on the issues of the day and the future of our country,” he added.
“This happened despite the PAP’s promises not to indulge in the destructive politics of old. When the programme was over, Mr Wong came up to me and we shook hands. Then he smiled and said, “You came prepared.”
Dr Chee said he hopes that “the PAP will stop what it is trying to do and get back to having a constructive GE on how we can better the lives of our fellow citizens.”
On 25 August, the Election Department had advised candidates in the election to stay away from “negative campaigning.”
“Candidates should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process. Candidates should steer away from negative campaigning practices based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates…”