Member of Parliament (MP) for Punggol East SMC Charles Chong revealed on Tuesday (20 December) that he had undergone a liver transplant on 1 December and was discharged on 14 December.
Mr Charles said in a statement that he was diagnosed with a liver condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis about three years ago after a routine medical checkup.
He added that it did not have any impact on his work or personal life.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) HQ had announced in a statement earlier this month that Mr Charles will be on medical leave for eight weeks after undergoing a planned medical procedure.
He then wrote his gratitude towards those who sent their well-wishes and enquired about his condition.
“I am very grateful for the support provided by DPM Teo Chee Hean and other Pasir Ris-Punggol MPs, as well as the Punggol East Grassroots Leaders and PAP Branch Activists who have been taking care of Punggol East residents’ needs in my absence,” he wrote.
Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen wrote on his Facebook page that he admires Mr Charles’ courage and act on what he believes in, despite uncertainties.
He wrote that the prospect of a liver transplant would have caused any one of us to at least reduce our activities, review life’s goals but certainly not take on major challenges.
“Not for Charles Chong. He had known for some years now that he might need a new liver in the future, based on his doctors’ advice. While he could still be active, he would need close monitoring and reviews,” he wrote.
He went back by saying that Mr Charles was asked to stand in Punggol East by PM Lee Hsien Loong before the last GE in 2015.
He said that Mr Charles’ response was almost instantaneous that he was ready to fight.
“Charles knew that any candidate there must expect a hectic campaign and a tough fight. The rest they say is history. Charles fought hard and won back the constituency. How he could do this, with the shadow of a liver transplant over him, I cannot pretend to understand fully except that Charles has guts and the courage to act on his convictions,” he wrote.
But many have called out the news as a spin on what is in reality a cover-up of medical condition of a candidate standing in the General Election.
Chris Kuan, regular commentator on finance and economics, said that the headline by Straits Times “Punggol East MP Charles Chong courageous to stand in GE despite liver condition: Ng Eng Hen” is an excellent example of political language design “to give the appearance of soliditiy to pure wind”.
He noted that besides whether this is the responsible thing to do, does this action betray something about the PAP. That it does not have any viable candidates and forcing it to ask an ill man who ought to look after his own health after serving as MP for a number of years is asked to stand for election.
Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, who was also a candidate in the General Election 2015 said that she is confused that a decision was made to put up a PAP candidate who suffers from a serious medical condition that could lead to liver failure, and to not disclose it to public. She commented that it is “clever” to have the story now re-told as a story “about courage and acting on what one believes in, despite uncertainties.”
Ms Chong also noted that Mr Chong beat the Workers’ Party incumbent MP, Ms Lee Li Lian by a narrow margin of 51.8% to 48.2% and asked if the result would be same or different if the voters had known about his medical condition at the time.
Lawrence Pek, a business man said in his public FB post that Parliamentary are supposed to be representing the people. Therefore, the decision to put Mr Charles who suffers is simply wrong.
He stated that the good people of Punggol East had a right to know that the candidate from PAP has a severe medical condition, and may not be able to serve in a full capacity.
“Do we believe that the residents would have given the vote to him if they knew?” he asked.
“Don’t twist the narrative, it’s got to be about the residents kept in the dark and not about Charles Chong courage. Please don’t. Just don’t.” he wrote.
Kirsten Han, a freelance journalist and activist wrote that PAP might think it’s an act of courage. However, the media shouldn’t just report this at face value.
She said that it is actually an important, timely and long-running question.
“To what extent is a politician’s medical history/record his private affair? In the interests of transparency and accountability, didn’t voters deserve to know that the candidate had a medical condition serious enough to potentially warrant an organ transplant (as has now come to pass)?” she wrote.
Khan Osman Sulaiman, another candidate in the General Election 2015 wrote that it is actually not a courageous deed to stand in an election despite knowing one has a health problem that needs medical attention as there are many uncertainties when a person having a medical condition run for office.
Mr Khan said that he/she could be incapacitated during his/her term and a by-election would have to be called.
“On top of not being able to serve the residents at his/her fullest capacity, this courageous deed would have wasted tax payers money. It’s pure deception unless it was declared beforehand,” he added.
Andrew Loh, a prominent blogger on social-political issues, wrote that given his age (63) and his medical condition (which is serious enough to warrant a transplant operation just one year after the elections), why did his party chief Lee Hsien Loong decide to field him anyway, and subject him to another 5 years of political work, until he is 68?
He said that he would have thought Lee Hsien Loong would have told him to retire and rest and take care of his health.
Mr Loh asks that while Mr Charles may indeed be seen by some as courageous, the more important question is the decision by his party leadership to field him despite his health condition, saying, “Were selfish partisan political considerations (wanting to win Punggol East) given priority over Mr Charles’s health situation?”
“This is an obvious point not asked (by reporters) and left unsaid by Dr Ng Eng Hen,” he stated.
Mr Loh said that it does look to him that political considerations took priority, given that several PAP MPs at the time who were also in their 60s were asked to give way to younger candidates.
“Therefore, why was Charles Chong not asked to similarly step down by his party, especially given his medical condition which they must have known at the time?”
He also mentioned that during the hustings, Mr Chong and his party made a big deal about transparency (or lack of, they claim) of the then AHPETC town council. Yet, the PAP and Mr Charles themselves totally hid this piece of news (of Mr Charles’s health condition) from the voters of Punggol East.
“And now they make themselves out as “courageous”? Talk about hypocrisy,” he remarked.