WP’s Dennis Tan embroils in heated exchange with PAP’s Murali Pillai over ruling party’s “petty and bad politics” in GE2020

Mr Pillai asked Mr Tan if he felt that the incumbent was using its “power of incumbency” against oppositions in an unfair manner

Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan condemned the People’s Action Party (PAP) for its “petty and bad politics” during the last General Election, highlighting how the ruling party had made complaints about WP’s placement of posters in Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC).

He also mentioned about how the incumbent had placed its own flags in front of WP’s banner in Hougang.

Mr Tan made these comments on Monday (31 August) when MPs debated the President’s Address during the first day of parliamentary debates.

In his speech, the MP of Hougang shared his experience in July’s GE2020, in response to President Halimah Yacob’s point of politics evolution in Singapore.

“I myself had some experience with petty and bad politics in this election, which makes me wonder whether the ruling party had gone backwards in time in the way its campaign has been conducted in Hougang,” Mr Tan noted.

In GE2020, WP managed to secure its strong position in Hougang SMC after winning 61.19 per cent of the vote against PAP’s Lee Hong Chuang.

While delivering his speech, Mr Tan, who took over the WP’s Png Eng Huat in Hougang, pointed out that two complaints were made to the Elections Department (ELD) during the campaigning period.

The first complaint was about 13 allegations of the alternative party’s election posters being below the required 2.2m height. To this, Mr Tan said his volunteers were “puzzled” to learn about this complaint as they had properly followed ELD’s regulations.

Another complaint with similar allegations was again made just two days later, even though his volunteers had fixed the issue, Mr Tan added.

If that’s not all, a resident also told him that representative from PAP were seen pulling WP’s posters to ensure that they fall below its original height.

Mr Tan went on to state that the PAP had also place its own flags in front of WP’s banner in the constituency, “blocking a clean sighting of the content” of his banners. The ruling party also planted many of its flags around coffee shops in Hougang, Mr Tan added.

As such, he asked if PAP’s actions in the involved consistency give WP the leave to do the same in constituencies where PAP was incumbent.

“I should think not, lest a tit-for-tat culture manifests itself and creates a divisive political culture that only hurts Singaporeans,” Mr Tan said.

Murali Pillai heated response to Mr Tan

Mr Tan’s comments resulted in a heated exchange with PAP’s Murali Pillai, who asked Mr Tan if he felt that the incumbent was using its “power of incumbency” against oppositions in an unfair manner.

The MP for Bukit Batok also questioned if Mr Tan would agree that ELD had addressed his complaints in “an even-handed way”.

As a reply, Mr Tan went on to restate the multiple events that he encountered. He specifically highlighted the issue of PAP flags being placed around Hougang coffee shops, in which he said this was something that he would not have expected to happen when he was competing against PAP in Fengshan SMC in GE2015.

During that election, Mr Tan lost to PAP’s Cheryl Chan.

“My point is that… if this is going to be a precedent set by the PAP… then it raises the question of where do you want to draw the line with this kind of behaviour, because certainly for me, we have to move beyond this,” Mr Tan said.

Given that Mr Tan did not directly answer the question that was raised by Mr Pillai, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin urged the WP MP to answer Mr Pillai’s question directly.

As such, Mr Tan agreed that ELD was even-handed in dealing with the complaints.

Stating that Mr Tan did not address his questions properly, Mr Pillai stood up and repeated his question and Mr Tan responded then by saying, “I’m not suggesting the PAP is using its power of incumbency. But I have raised various incidents that have happened as a result of the actions of certain people.”

He added, “My point really is that these are all very petty and bad politics and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

ELD’s response

Responding to media queries on the parliamentary debate, ELD said on Monday that it got over 220 feedback and complaints from the public and political parties about posters and banners put up by candidates and political parties in GE2020.

Some of the breaches include posters and banners planted within 50m of a polling station, not in possession of the Returning Officer’s stamp and below the 2.2m height requirement, as it will block the line of sight for motorists.

ELD said that regardless of political party, the Department will ask election agent to rectify the posters in breach of the rules within three hours, when such complaints are made.

“If this is done, no further action will be taken. In most cases, rectifications were done within the three-hour timeframe and no further action was taken,” it said.

It added, “This was also the case for the complaints relating to Mr Dennis Tan’s posters.”

ELD also noted that Mr Tan’s comment of his posters being pulled down from the original height is “a serious allegation”, adding that it had not received such a report.

“Mr (Dennis) Tan should file a report with ELD so that this can be investigated,” ELD stated.

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