After reading the comments about Yaw’s expulsion from the WP, I remembered with sadness what Chen Show Mao said during his maiden parliamentary speech, “In this term of Parliament, I hope the ruling party can be Tang Tai Zong, while we can be Wei Zheng”.
So what would that fearless court official have advised
Emperor Low Thia Khiang and the other members of the WP’s Central Executive Council*? Would he have advised them to do what the WP done? Initially, stonewalling, evading and keeping silent, despite calling the PAP to be open, transparent, and accountable to S’poreans. And then expelling Yaw.
As someone who has voted WP all my life (even when it had a mentally ill man as its candidate in Siglap, and believe me, it was hard to vote for him especially as the PAP was doing good things at the time**. It got worse for me when after that election, the WP supporters did not remove the WP signage), I suspect not.
So the PAP can’t be blamed for deciding not to take up Show Mao’s offer. If he knew what was going to happen, would he have used the language he did? Again I suspect not. BTW, I note his absence from the WP’s panel at its media conference announcing the decision to expel Yat.
What would have been the best advice to give the WP CEC, and which it should have accepted?
The WP CEC should have first asked itself if the truth of the allegation against MP Yaw was a matter of public interest.
If the CEC decided that the truth was a matter of public interest***, it should have asked the public to bear with it while it investigated the matter and decided on what to do. It should have promised full and frank disclosure of the facts and its actions within a reasonable time, say eight weeks.
I suspect Wei Zheng would have advised the WP to say,“We recognise the fact that this may be his personal life, so what he does outside politics is something between him and his family. But he’s leading a team of activists who are expected to be examples, good models for our supporters, and other S’poreans. We think it’d be difficult for the team, supporters and other S’poreans to look up to him, if there are moral flaws in his character****. We are investigating the matter. Give us some time. We promise full and frank disclosure.”
But it felt that the allegation, even if true or near the truth, was a private matter (I doubt if Wei Zheng would think it was a private matter), it should have simply said, “This is a personal, private matter and has nothing to do with Yaw’s ability to perform his duties as a CEC member and MP”. Many S’poreans may have disagreed with this stand, but the CEC of the WP would have been seen as taking a clear, principled stand: the issue of adultery is a private matter. While it not the British way, it is the French and American way. And the French and Americans are first-world democracies.
As it is, the CEC’s stonewalling, evasive silence left the WP vulnerable to “events, dear boy, events”. Remember Watergate, or our farcial CurryGate.
WP has lost credibility because it is clear that the WP believes that first-world openness, transparency and accountability applies to the PAP and the government, and for that matter anyone else, but not to the WP: until in the words of WP MP PritamS, “With more individuals coming to the fore, we do not feel that keeping quiet was an option anymore.”
Right, silence is the default option until forced to be open and transparent. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and LKY could not have said it better.
While we should cut the WP some slack for the reasons stated here (even though this was written before Yaw was expelled), we should hope that
Emperor Low and his fellow council members will learn lessons from this fiasco that need not have been. They should learn to think thru the issues, and here a lawyer-scholar like Chen Show Mao should be useful (forget about SMU law grad PriramS or NUS law grad Sylvia Lim: Show Mao is from Harvard, Oxford and Stamford), and not instinctively think, “What would Lenin. Mao or the PAP do?” And use Gerald Giam’s skills and connections in the new media to communicate.
Here’s hoping the WP moves on in the right direction.
*Interesting the use of the word “Council” and not “Committee”. The word “Council” implies that it is an advisory body to the leader of the party, whereas the word “Committee” implies that decision-making is a group effort. But then the PAP uses the word “Committe”, not “Council”. And for many a year, we know that the PAP was not run by consensus.
**I’m not one of those who are rabid anti-PAP haters. I voted for the WP because it was the only party that stood against the PAP in my constituency. I voted for the opposition candidate even when I tot the PAP was doing a great job because I felt that the day would come when S’pore would need an Opposition to articulate the views of ordinary S’poreans. That day has come. And because there is an Opposition to vote for, the PAP is listening.
***My tests for whether it is a matter of public interest in this case are very simple:
— “Would the voters of Houygang have voted for Yaw (and the WP) if they had known of the allegation?”
— “Would the voters of Houygang have voted for Yaw (and the WP) if Yaw and the WP had opted for stonewalling, evasion and silence?”
— “Would the WP dared to have fielded Yaw, if the WP knew of the allegation (not the truth mind you)?”
****Yup I adapted this from PAP MP Lim Biow Chuan’s comments about a former school principal.