Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has acknowledged that the PAP sometimes “falls short” when it comes to when it comes to “character”.
Mr Tharman, who is also the 2nd Assistant Secretary General of the People’s Action Party, said this at the Nanyang Technological University Majulah Lecture yesterday.
He was addressing a question from audience member Kenneth Lin, who asked for his views on “gutter politics” which some members of the PAP engaged in during the 2016 Bukit Batok SMC by-election.
At the time, DPM Tharman had promised the SDP a “clean” fight – a promise which his colleagues put on the backburner.
Mr Tharman said that he doesn’t agree with every tactic of every one of his colleagues, but “every political party and political campaigns have a range of tactics.”
He then said that “character” is what defines the PAP.
“Yes, you get pushbacks. Sometimes you may not like it. And I don’t agree with every tactic of every one of my colleagues. But I have to say, that there’s something that defines the PAP. It’s the insistence on character, honesty, and being true to Singaporeans. Now I’m not saying this to besmirch anyone, but that trait of the PAP shows up almost all the time. And sometimes the PAP falls short, and action is to be taken on individuals.
The PAP was heavily criticised then for character assassination tactics employed on Singapore Democratic Party chief Dr Chee Soon Juan during the Bukit Batok by-election.”
PM Lee Hsieng Loong, Minister Grace Fu, then-MP for Marsiling-Yew Tee Halimah Yacob, and ESM Goh Chok Tong were singled out in particular for their personal attacks on Dr Chee.
And too, the “terror tactics” employed by PAP candidate Murali Pillai.
Close to 5000 people signed a petition which said the PAP caused the campaign to deteriorate to a level that “undermines our Singaporean values “ and called for a to stop party members’ “unbecoming behaviour”.
Dr Chee subsequently lost 39 percent to 61 percent to Mr Murali.
The by-election was called due to the amorous behaviour of disgraced former PAP MP David Ong, who is widely believed to have had an affair with a married grassroots volunteer.
This is the Q&A between Kenneth Lin and DPM Tharman at NTU yesterday:
“Don’t you think it’s also important to open up the media landscape to have the mainstream media not controlled by the government? As some of you may know, Singapore is ranked a 151st out of a 180 countries by Reporters Without Borders.
And you’ve also said there is a need to return to honest politics, and have indicated that you believe political campaigns should be a healthy debate on ideas, not one muddied with mudslinging and personal attacks. Why then has the leaders of the PAP made gutter politics and character assassination central to their campaigns in recent elections, such as the Bukit Batok By-Elections last year? Is that something you personally approve of and would like to see continue in Singapore, or is that simply out of your control?”
“I’ll answer this in two levels. First, as someone who’s lived through some of Singapore’s history – I grew up in the 60s, I was politically very conscious and aware, and in the 70s, I was active in my own way, and I joined the ruling party in 2001 – I would say Singapore has really changed. I don’t want to minimise anything you might talk about today, but it is a vastly more open and liberal place compared to what it used to be, believe me. I was an activist. Vastly more liberal and vastly more open. And the sense of fear, the sense of constraints is far less now.
Yes, you get pushbacks. Sometimes you may not like it. And I don’t agree with every tactic of every one of my colleagues. But I have to say, that there’s something that defines the PAP. It’s the insistence on character, honesty, and being true to Singaporeans. Now I’m not saying this to besmirch anyone, but that trait of the PAP shows up almost all the time. And sometimes the PAP falls short, and action is to be taken on individuals.
So just bear in mind that that was one of the colours of the PAP, that emphasis on character, and it shows up in a variety of ways. But it is a vastly more open society than it used to be. Vastly more open politically, and people don’t have to be frightened. I don’t agree with every tactic but every political party and political campaigns have a range of tactics. I also have great faith in Singaporeans, which is my second point. Singaporeans judge. Singaporeans judge in Bukit Batok, Singaporeans judge in each general elections and they’ll judge the PAP in the next elections. I don’t think Singaporeans are fools. I don’t think they are fools at all.
And even when they read what we call the mainstream media, they don’t read it lightly. They know some things are more likely to come up on page 4 than on page 1. The headlines might be a slightly different size, but Singaporeans aren’t fools. And Singaporeans have the social media as well. People talk more openly, they exchange views more openly and they make judgement. And that, at the end of the day, is the test of how we’re progressing.”