The year 2012 opened with a bang when Workers’ Party Yaw Shin Leong fled from the country and his constituents at Hougang as news of his marital infidelity appeared on TRE – a online socio-political blog.
Michael Palmer now ended the year the similar way abeit at the opposite camp.
Back then in February, Richard the editor at TRE contacted me asking for the Workers’ Party HQ contact number or email address as he has something urgent to relate to the party.
He sounded frantic and worried.
He wouldn’t tell me what the matter was and I presumed that it was very urgent. When I saw the news later on TRE, I nearly fell off my chair.
Many Yaw supporters have blamed TRE for causing his downfall.
The whistleblower apparently came from someone at church but this could not be verified.
News of Yaw’s infidelity has been brewing on and off and those who are close knew of his other side.
Yaw was the first MP in the country to be embroiled in a sex scandal case but I always have this sick feeling that when there is a first the next one will always follow close by.
Yaw of course took the easy way out and ran away to flee from the consuming heat – I don’t blame him as man by nature has this flee or fight tendency when they are facing a potential conflict.
The fallout would be devastating and catastrophic – coming only less than 8 months after the successful 2011 General Election for his party.
I believe that Yaw has this fear his scandal has destroyed whatever good work the election has done for the party than worrying over his own personal political demise.
It will take a very strong man to own up to his mistake and face the media and public onslaught.
The shame will also be over bearing and unimaginable – especially so when it means tarnishing the good image of the opposition party.
I have listed three major differences between Workers’ Party Yaw and People’s Action Party Palmer sex scandal case:-
1. Individual handling of the scandal
We all knew that Yaw fled from everything Singaporean when news of his scandal broke out and the last I heard was he is living in Vietnam with his wife.
He has been sacked by the Workers’ Party and lost his MP seat but has never owned up to his sex scandal.
We also knew from news reports that he failed to turn up for his Meet-The-People sessions and party CEC meeting culminating in his downfall from politics.
He hanged around for a while when TRE broke the story and of course the media lapped it up with ferocious reporting for the next few days which probably forced him to flee from the country.
Palmer on the other hand was reported to have approached DPM Teo to confess to his sex scandal and offered to resign voluntarily – a gesture seen as gentlemanly and the right thing to do.
The public always likes a man who owns up to his mistake and Palmer seemed to be doing just that short of bowing to the whole country in admission.
The New Paper published a juicy story yesterday of SMSes that they received from a whistleblower detailing love messages between him and his lover Laura Ong.
The whistleblower remains anonymous.
Many Singaporeans will probably not believe that Palmer has offered to confess to the DPM his wrongdoing when he is still honeymooning and enjoying himself with his lover.
He must have got wind of the fact that someone has exposed his wrongdoing to the media and decided to take matters into his own hand before the news turns public.
I am also not surprised if TNP who got hold of the story from the whistleblower turns the news upward to the government as it involves a very high-ranking politician so the government has time to react appropriately.
They may have even approach Palmer with the news and coax him to admit voluntarily to the scandal in public.
This will make Palmer and the government look good.
It will be adverse publicity if the government is reported to have caught Palmer with his pants down and sacked him.
Anyway, there is nothing to substantiate such a claim.
I believe Yaw does not have this luxury of pre-emption like Palmer did and probably only knew that he was exposed when news of his scandal broke out on TRE.
The online media is a powerful source of dissemination and politicans now have to be really careful if they are treading on dangerous immoral venture.
I have heard how some wives manage to track their husbands’ Watapps and record down SMSes sent to certain people of suspicion.
Emails can also be downloaded easily as the passwords can be trapped down unless you are those that change your passwords regularly.
The media has painted Yaw to be a run-away and someone who is too cowardly to face up to his mistakes whereas Palmer is the brave stoic one who owns up.
There may be some truth to that but we must first remembered that Palmer may have been coerced by the whistleblowing revelation that his wrongdoing was already leaked to the press whereas Yaw probably only knew of his exposure when the scandal broke out on TRE.
Anyway, Yaw should have face up to his mistake and take it like a man as that would have make him look better publicly.
Politics is all about perception and people tend to forgive and forget easily if the person owns up.
Singaporeans by now have acknowledged that politicans are human beings with weaknesses and owning up to your own wrongdoing will allow the public to respect you more than running away from the issue.
2. Party handling of the scandal
We are still pretty unclear how Workers’ Party would have handled Yaw’s sex scandal if he decided to come clean.
From the media. we only knew that the party CEC wanted to speak with him but he was absent for a long period before he took off abroad.
He didn’t even turn up for his Meet-The-People’s session.
The party chief Mr Low Thia Kiang is a man of principles and I am sure that he is not someone to mess around with.
Some people I knew in WP have told me that he is someone who don’t mince his words and could even be as hard as Mr Lee Kuan Yew when dealing with dissidents.
I am not surprised that Yaw chose to flee than take it up with his chief especially when opposition politics have just gained some ground after the recent win at Aljunied GRC.
Handling a sex scandal case within the party is tricky as you don’t want to be seen as pushing the culprit too far away for fear that the voters will be displeased whereas treating him too leniently will alienate those who want a upright honest MP.
There are also unconfirmed rumours that the party prefers Yaw to run away and be seen as the ultimate culprit as that would mean the party has absolved itself of all responsibility of meting out a sentence for his misbehaviour.
If Yaw turns up and be accountable for his wrongdoing then the party has to make a decision and it would most probably has sack him based on what he has done.
The fear is that if WP does that, the party will become the whipping boy of those who have voted for Yaw – a very popular party member.
We have also heard that there was a split decision when it came to the CEC voting on expelling Yaw from the party.
I am sure that Yaw’s case has created a slight rift within the party’s ranks.
There is also the premonition that WP may lose Hougang if the party mis-handled the case and handed Yaw too strong a judgement.
This was after all the first MP in history to be sacked based on unadmitted sex-related offences.
Palmer on the other hand was well-handled by the ruling party and I am sure that they have certain protocol to follow.
Extra marital infidelity is not cordoned and is on the no-no list of the ruling party manifesto for politicians.
We have seen how DPM Teo sheltered Palmer during the press conference and he only spoke once when answering the reporters’ questions.
I am unsure if Palmer should reveal too much of his sex scandal story but I thought that the party did rather well to manage a potentially damaging situation – after all the recent high-profile scandals.
DPM Teo must have whispered to himself: “Not another one!” when Palmer came and confessed to him last Saturday.
Palmer is the first MP from the ruling party to fall due to a sex scandal and I am sure that he won’t be the last.
Stepping down graciously was his only saving grace and the party will not want to give too much room for negotiation here.
However, I am somewhat surprised that the party is sympathetic and even understanding of his predicament.
Maybe, during this short period, the government has seen too many top-guns falling from grace because the scholars could not keep themselves to their own pants.
Morally, something is wrong within our society and the whiter-than-white philosophy of the ruling party has been severely tarnished during this short period.
Principal, teachers, military officers, top civil servants have walked down the road of sexual lust and many have permanently destroyed their own careers as a result.
What can a principal do when he is released from jail because he has seeked after sexual services from an underaged prostitute abeit unknowingly?
Can Singapore accept top civil servants or politicians who behaved inappropriately outside of marriage though they are capable scholarly individuals who could discharge their duties professionally?
This I believe is a personal matter for all Singaporeans to consider as we will surely see more similar scandals in the near future.
3. Media handling of the scandal
I have seen Straits Times reporting of the scandal and it appeared to be impartially carried out.
I don’t read The New Paper which contains an article yesterday on the text messages between Palmer and his lover Laura – sent in by a whistleblower.
Nevertheless, I have read Ms Chua Mui Hoong opinion piece “When MPs prove to have feet of clay” on ST 13 December and thought that it was abit slanted towards the PAP MP.
She wrote: “Mr Palmer came clean to PAP leaders on Saturday and decided to resign. He apologised to constituents, party and family. The PAP held a press conference four days later to announce the resignation, after arranging for others to take over Mr Palmer’s duties. ”
“In contrast, Mr Yaw Shin Leong maintained a strange silence in the face of allegations of affairs, even to his own party leaders. He did not quit his seat. He lost it after WP leaders sacked him – not for his affairs, since he never admitted to any – but for his lack of transparency and failure to account for his actions to his party and constituents.”
Though what she has written was all factual, the stark contrast in reporting format was apparent and any readers would have taken side after reading her piece.
I thought that Ms Chua would have to be more impartial here as there are many unclear factors - did Mr Palmer yield to pressure that his scandal will be exposed soon and thus confessed to DPM Teo voluntarily?
Did the government themselves got wind of the scandal too and decided to step in to save itself further embarassment before the media prints the story?
For such a massive scandal, I am sure the TNP will have inform the government about the whistle blowing story.
They will not post the story without informing someone higher up as it is almost mind boggling news of the greatest proportion.
I remembered how the Chinese papers decided to go ahead and posted the story during Chinese New Year on the two top civil servants’ sex scandals – much to the displeasure of the government.
The story also came to light because of a conscientious whistleblower.
DPM Teo has to intervene embarassingly and explained that they are still investigating the cases before they could publicise the news.
We are still unsure how long the government will come clean on the sex scandals of the two top civil servants if the whistlebower did not took the risk and informed the press.
Whistleblowers will have an important role to play now and most sex scandal cases of significance came about because someone from inside wants Singapore to know the truth.
As for our mainsteam media, they have to report news impartially than seen as taking sides.
Written by: Gilbert Goh