Thursday 16 February 2012

Workers' Party expels Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong

Hougang MP is out of Parliament as party chiefs lose patience with his silence over rumours
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

AFTER weeks of insisting it would not respond to rumours, the Workers' Party yesterday booted out Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong for not coming clean on his alleged extramarital affairs.

With that dramatic gesture, the party made history for being the first to expel an MP from its ranks, thereby ousting him out of his seat, as required by the Constitution.

Talk now swirls on a looming by-election. But Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on whom the decision rests, made it plain last night he would not be so easily moved by a chain of events that was the WP's own doing. 'The WP has let down the voters of Hougang,' he said, adding that an election was a serious matter and he would have to consider the matter carefully first.

At a media conference yesterday, WP leaders said they made the painful decision to expel Mr Yaw as he had fallen short of the party's expectations of transparency and accountability in its members.

'Shin Leong has been accused of several indiscretions in his private life. By continuing not to account to the party and the people, especially the residents of Hougang, he has broken the faith, trust and expectations of the party and people,' the WP said in a sharply worded statement.

WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim read out the statement in Mandarin and English with grim faces and red-rimmed eyes.

The shock move may have signalled the party's intent to distance itself from Mr Yaw, but questions festered last night over whether it ought to have accounted for itself earlier.

Mr Yaw, 35, a businessman, had been a rising star within the party. He had been entrusted the precious prize of guarding Hougang for Mr Low, when he ventured out in last May's General Election to lead a WP team to win Aljunied GRC.

But rumours surfaced on a website three weeks ago that Mr Yaw had an extramarital affair with a married party member. Throughout, WP leaders maintained a wall of silence, insisting that they would not comment on rumours.

However, Mr Yaw resigned from the WP's top decision-making executive council on Tuesday last week with no explanation from himself or the party.

Even as the wall of silence came down yesterday, Ms Lim and Mr Low maintained that they were none the wiser about the allegations. The reason: Mr Yaw had not been forthcoming with the executive council.

Ms Lim said the council had invited Mr Yaw to speak to them, but he refused. She declined to give details of when and how many times he was asked to do so.

Mr Yaw was absent from the council's regular monthly meeting last week when his council resignation was accepted.

He also decided to skip Tuesday night's council meeting when he was called to explain himself. It was then that party leaders voted with a 'clear majority' to sack him.

Allegations of more affairs 'the last straw'

Mr Yaw also could not be reached when Ms Lim tried contacting him to inform him of the council's decision. Yesterday morning, she called his wife, Madam Lau Wang Lin, who said the couple were aware of the expulsion.

The beleaguered ex-MP had also disappeared from the public eye after the allegations first surfaced. He skipped a Meet-the-People session and later said he would not comment on rumours. And then he appeared at his Chinese New Year party event looking happy, the picture of a man unruffled.

Explaining the party's silence throughout the saga, Ms Lim said: 'This is obviously a complex matter and the party leadership had very limited information in the first place.

'And thus when we make decisions like this, we do not take it lightly because there are implications not just on the party but also on the residents of Hougang and perhaps Singapore generally.'

She added that the party leaders could not speak about the allegations in the meantime as they were 'not cognizant of many of the facts' and 'were not in a position... to address the substance of the allegations'.

Asked if and when the WP knew of Mr Yaw's alleged affairs, Ms Lim said: 'Well, from what I know, we received some queries from the media. So that was the first time that we were aware the media was looking into this matter.'

Mr Low later said in Mandarin that 'in the case of such (personal) matters, I think even the people who are closest to him may not know if they happened'.

However, the WP decided to go public after fresh reports surfaced last week that Mr Yaw had allegedly been involved with at least one other woman.

Said WP media vice-chairman Pritam Singh: 'With more individuals coming to the fore... the obligation to be upfront to the people, to be upfront to the public, to the voters, took a new turn.'

Ms Lim said: 'The action that we've taken today may be no doubt read by some to be very drastic, but we feel that this is something necessary for us to do.'

She added that the party was serious in its commitment to maintain high standards.

Mr Yaw's expulsion comes as a sharp landing from last May's election when the WP rode high after winning an unprecedented six seats.

But even as the council acknowledged his 'significant and unique contributions to WP's growth' over the past decade and diligence as an MP, his mentor Mr Low later did not mince his words.

He censured his former protege in his Mandarin statement for creating a 'crisis of trust' through his irresponsible actions. 'We require our MPs to be responsible people. With such reports and rumours going around, not coming forward to clarify was irresponsible. We cannot allow this type of MP to continue being an MP,' said Mr Low.

He added in English: 'Although it is a difficult decision and it's a painful one to make, we'll have to make (it) so that the Workers' Party and its MPs can stand tall and hold their heads up to take the PAP government to account.'

Ms Lim and Mr Singh defended the party's candidate selection process, while Mr Low said Mr Yaw's exit had no impact on the party's renewal. Meanwhile, the other WP MPs would cover Meet-the-People sessions (MPS).

And while the party apologised to Hougang voters for having to put them through a by-election, it said it was 'only fair' that voters had another opportunity to elect a new MP.

The party has not decided on its candidate but Ms Lim did not rule out the possibility of one of the two Non-Constituency MPs - Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Yee Jenn Jong - contesting.

Over half of 40 Hougang residents polled yesterday still supported the WP, even as the PAP took the party to task, with PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan saying the WP - not just Mr Yaw - had to come clean on the matter.

Both Ms Lim and Mr Low showed up at the Hougang MPS last night.

Responding to PM Lee's comments, Mr Low said: 'The Workers' Party has not let the people down. Whatever is wrong, we put it right. Perhaps the Prime Minister should look at the sentiment, and should not drag too long for a by-election if he has a national agenda and he wants to move on.'



FRIDAY, JAN 20: Sociopolitical website Temasek Review Emeritus reports that a Mr Yaw, 'a core member of a prominent opposition party', allegedly had an affair with a married woman from the same party.

Yesterday, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim said media queries about the allegations were the first time the party was 'aware the media was looking into this matter'.

WEDNESDAY, JAN 25: Mr Yaw Shin Leong cancels his weekly Meet-the-People session (MPS). But WP chief Low Thia Khiang holds his MPS and, when asked about the allegations, declines to comment.

THURSDAY, JAN 26: The New Paper reports that it had spoken to Mr Yaw and his wife at his MPS the week before. Both declined comment.

SATURDAY, JAN 28: The Straits Times reports Mr Yaw could not be contacted and has been absent from his town council office since Wednesday. Mr Yaw posts a photo on his Facebook page showing him at work in what appears to be his town council office. He says he cancelled his MPS because it was the third day of Chinese New Year.

WEDNESDAY, FEB 1: He resumes his MPS but stays mum on the allegations.

TUESDAY, FEB 7: WP accepts his decision to resign from the executive council (exco). He does not attend the meeting at which his decision is accepted.

Yesterday, Ms Lim said he handed in his resignation as treasurer a few days before the meeting.

THURSDAY, FEB 9: The New Paper reports that he had also been involved with a tuition teacher from China.

FRIDAY, FEB 10: Lianhe Wanbao reports that he has been linked with five women before and after his marriages.

SATURDAY, FEB 11: Mr Yaw holds a Chinese New Year dinner for more than 1,000 Hougang residents. His wife, Madam Lau Wang Lin, led the organising team. Mr Low and Ms Lim are present.

SUNDAY, FEB 12: Mr Yaw is a guest at a Chinese New Year dinner hosted by the Aljunied GRC MPs.

TUESDAY, FEB 14: He attends the one-day Parliament sitting but not the WP exco meeting at which most of the members vote to expel him.

WEDNESDAY, FEB 15: Ms Lim has not been able to contact him but has spoken to his wife, who said she and her husband were aware of the expulsion.

WP holds a media conference to announce the expulsion.

Mr Yaw has again become uncontactable, even to WP members.

'Yaw broke trust of WP and the people'
The Workers' Party held a 30-minute press conference at its Syed Alwi Road headquarters yesterday. It was co-chaired by party chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, together with council members Pritam Singh and Gerald Giam. Here are edited extracts.

Sylvia Lim (SL): The WP has expelled Yaw Shin Leong from the party with immediate effect.

WP believes strongly in transparency and accountability, and expects no less from our party members, especially our MPs. Shin Leong has been accused of several indiscretions in his private life. By continuing not to account to the party and the people, especially the residents of Hougang, he has broken the faith, trust and expectations of the party and people.

This is a difficult and painful decision for us. Shin Leong has been a core member of the party leadership for more than 10 years, and has made significant contributions towards WP's growth. He has also served the residents of Hougang diligently.

However, the council has decided that it is in the public interest to take this step. We also believe it is only fair to the Hougang residents that they have another opportunity to elect their MP.

We apologise for having to put them through a by-election.

We wish to assure Hougang residents that they will continue to be served by the party until the by-election is called. The Meet-the-People Sessions in Hougang will continue, with the other MPs covering. Residents are free to contact any WP MP for assistance. Town council services will continue to be provided under the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

Finally, we wish to thank the public for their concern towards the party and for walking with us through this difficult period.

Low: Yaw created a 'crisis of trust'

Low Thia Khiang (LTK): (in Mandarin) The WP has certain expectations of its MPs. MPs are the people's representatives, and are also public figures. They have to set a good example. Most importantly, they must be accountable and be willing to take responsibility.

Recently, serious allegations about Yaw Shin Leong have appeared in the mainstream media. He chose not to reply and did not come forward to explain himself. That was an irresponsible act and has created a crisis of trust.

Hougang is the bastion defending Singapore's democratic politics and without Hougang's support over the last 20 years, WP would not have had today's development. Singapore would not have made progress in the process of democratisation. Therefore, we have decided to expel Yaw Shin Leong and let Hougang voters make a decision once again.

As this matter has caused worry to Hougang residents, and created the need for a by-election in Hougang, I want to apologise to Hougang voters. I would also like to thank the Singaporeans who have not deserted us in this difficult time and who continue to fight together with us.

What took the party so long to come out and say anything?

SL: This is obviously a complex matter and the party leadership had very limited information in the first place. Thus when we make decisions like this, we do not take it lightly because there are implications not just on the party but also on the residents of Hougang and perhaps Singapore generally. So the party will need to go through its process and make a collective decision as best as it can.

Mr Low, how disappointed are you, that you have to expel Mr Yaw - someone you were grooming and whom you fielded in Hougang?

LTK: Although it is a difficult decision - and it's a painful one to make, we'll have to make it so that the WP and its MPs can stand tall and hold their heads up to take the PAP government to account.

Does this mean that the WP central executive committee (CEC) has confirmed that the allegations are true?

SL: The CEC took this decision because in the face of these allegations, Shin Leong has not come forward to address them and we feel that this falls short of what we expect.

We're not making any statement about whether the allegations are true.

Mr Low, many feel that you and Mr Yaw have a master-apprentice relationship, and wonder how you could have not noticed his personal problems. How would you respond?

LTK: (Mandarin) My relationship with Yaw Shin Leong is one of working party colleagues. Furthermore, my principle has always been to respect people's personal reasons. Even though you have to be frank if there's something amiss, I have no reason to pry too much into personal matters.

How confident is the party in keeping the Hougang SMC?

Mr Low: I don't think we want to speculate how Hougang voters will vote but we have to make this decision so Hougang voters will have another opportunity to decide.

What effect will this have on WP's image or voters' support?

LTK: (Mandarin) When we made this decision, it was not purely a question of our support levels. It was about principles. With these reports and rumours going around, not coming forward to clarify was irresponsible. We cannot allow this type of MP to continue being an MP.

SL: The action that we've taken today may be read by some to be very drastic but we feel this is something necessary.

Is Angela Oon still a party member?

Ms Sylvia Lim: At the moment she is. I would like to stress that at the moment these remain allegations.

To what extent has this whole affair tarnished the party's image, if at all?

Ms Lim: There is no doubt that attention has been drawn to the party, and we are of course cognisant of that.

But at the same time, we are also firm in our beliefs of what we expect of our party members and our MPs.

The action that we've taken may no doubt be deemed by some to be very drastic, but we feel that this is something necessary for us to do and it is in the public interest for us to do that.

We'd like to assure the public that we are serious in our commitment to maintain high standards.

Were party members aware of the allegations before they surfaced online?

Ms Lim: From what I know, we received some queries from the media and that's how we knew the media was looking into the matter. Apart from that, I don't think I can answer for other members.

When will the new candidate for Hougang be announced?

Ms Lim: The candidate will be announced on nomination day.

Selection process not foolproof

What effect will Yaw's expulsion have on WP's renewal plans?

LTK: (Mandarin) No effect. We have many young leaders in the party. He was just one of them.

How will this incident affect how the party assesses and chooses its members and candidates in future?

PS: (Selection) is an assessment based on the information you have and what people tell you and your judgment. If this person turns into something that is not what your party stands for, then some hard decisions have to be made.

SL: I think you know that there's no selection process which is foolproof. So, of course, we have our own due diligence processes, but there's a limit, of course, as to how far this can guarantee that nothing will ever happen.

Did you inform Mr Yaw that he'd been expelled from the party last night?

SL: He was informed that the CEC was meeting to discuss this matter, and was invited to come to address the CEC. But he chose not to come.

This morning I spoke to his wife because I couldn't contact him. And she told me that they are aware of it.

By doing this are you not worried that you're opening a can of worms, that voters may have other thoughts surrounding these allegations?

Ms Lim: No. We're not making this decision based on whether the allegations are true or not but we're saying that we expect, especially our MPs to be responsible.

At the meeting yesterday, was there any voting on whether to expel Mr Yaw?

Gerald Giam (GG): Yes, there was a vote, which is our normal procedure for important decisions. It was not unanimous but the CEC members got a chance to air their concerns. The whole council will be accountable.

What was the vote like?

LTK: What I can tell you is there was a clear majority for the motion to expel Yaw from the party.

'We cannot allow this type of MP to continue being an MP'

What has changed from last Tuesday when the party announced that he was resigning from the CEC?

Pritam Singh (PS): The newspaper reports that started coming out. At that point, the party realised there could be more individuals (involved).

Our concern was, previously it was just one individual, there was scope for Yaw to have come out and accounted himself to the people in a responsible manner.

But with more individuals coming to the fore, we did not feel that (there was this) option any more. The obligation to be upfront to the people, to be upfront to the public, to the voters took a new turn.

Is it in line with your party Constitution, and do you think Yaw may take legal action against the party?

SL: The WP Constitution has an article which allows the council to consider certain actions against members if, for example, it finds that the member has behaved in a way that is contrary to either the aims or objects of the party, or has acted in such a way that prejudices the welfare of the party.

There is a possibility for him under the Constitution to appeal to our cadre conference. And that is, of course, open to him.

Does the Constitution allow the party to take back a member if he's expelled?

SL: Of course. But when the party decides to accept members, we also have to make an assessment of whether he will be able to fit in.

Question: Can we get a few words from Mr Low, how disappointed are you that this thing conspired and you had to expel Mr Yaw?

Mr Low: It was a very difficult decision to make. Although he has made his contribution to the party in the past, but the party believes in transparency and accountability.

We cannot compromise the basic fundamental principal which we believe in.

Although it is a difficult and painful decision to make, we have to make it so that the WP and its MPs can stand tall, hold their head up and take the PAP government to account.

When will the new candidate for Hougang be announced?

Ms Lim: The candidate will be announced on nomination day.

WP has let Hougang voters down: PM
PAP chairman Khaw questions WP's 'sudden U-turn' in Yaw saga
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

THE Workers' Party (WP) has let down the voters of Hougang in its handling of Mr Yaw Shin Leong's alleged extramarital affair, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Mr Yaw was the WP's MP for Hougang constituency until his expulsion from the party yesterday left the seat vacant.

Under the law, the Prime Minister decides whether to call a by-election. Mr Lee said he would consider the issue carefully.

'Now, the Hougang SMC (single-member constituency) seat is vacant, as a result of what Mr Yaw Shin Leong has done, and the way the WP has handled the matter,' he said in a statement to the media.

'The WP has let down the voters of Hougang.'

Sharing those sentiments was People's Action Party chairman Khaw Boon Wan.

'It's a sad development that an elected Member of Parliament has been found by his party to be deficient in character and integrity and has to be expelled from the party,' Mr Khaw, the National Development Minister, told reporters.

He said the WP's 'sudden U-turn' in handling the matter came as a surprise.

After rumours that Mr Yaw had been having an extramarital affair surfaced last month, Mr Yaw and his party repeatedly declined to comment.

On Feb 7, he resigned as treasurer from the party's central executive committee, its top decision-making body.

Yesterday, Mr Khaw observed that only last Saturday, the WP leadership had stood 'shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity' with Mr Yaw at a constituency event.

'And now suddenly the party expelled him, and blamed everything on him.'

Noting that the rumours had been circulating for a while, he asked why the WP had taken so long to investigate, and what new information they had discovered - especially since Saturday.

Other questions Singaporeans would be asking, he added, were what the WP knew about Mr Yaw before fielding him in last May's general election and - if they had known something - why they still chose to field him.

'I think it is sad that the voters have been misled by the Workers' Party,' said Mr Khaw, who noted that integrity should be a key point for a responsible party.

Asked if the WP's expulsion of Mr Yaw had repaired some damage to the party's image, Mr Khaw cast doubt on the WP's motives for its 'sudden U-turn'.

'Is this an attempt at trying to conceal something that they knew? First through silence, and then, when they found that it is not possible, they get rid of the liability and blame everything on him.'

He said these were questions Singaporeans would have, and the WP needed to come clean.

With Mr Yaw's exit from Parliament, another question is whether Hougang SMC will see a by-election.

PM Lee said calling an election is 'a very serious matter', and that Singapore had a general election less than a year ago.

'On whether and when to hold a by-election in Hougang, I will consider the matter carefully,' he said. 'There are many other issues on the national agenda right now.'

He noted that there is no fixed time within which he must call a by-election.

Mr Khaw would not speculate on the chances of a by-election, but said the PAP remained committed to Hougang, which the WP has held since 1991.

Asked if Hougang PAP branch chairman Desmond Choo would be fielded in the event of a by-election, Mr Khaw would only say: 'Let's take things one thing at a time.'

Mr Choo was defeated by Mr Yaw in last year's general election.

Mr Khaw also gave the PAP's position on allegations about MPs' private lives.

'I think once you enter politics, there is no such thing as your private life,' he said, adding that it was a 'feeble excuse' to say that private and public lives are separate and only the person's performance as an MP matters.

All parties need to scrutinise their candidates, and present voters with a good slate to choose from, he said.

The PAP would not fail to investigate any allegations made about its members: 'When we get any kind of feedback, anonymous or otherwise, we investigate,' he said.

'Right move, but party could have done more earlier'
By Janice Heng & Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

THE Workers' Party's (WP) expulsion of former Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong is the right move, but more could have been done earlier, said political observers yesterday.

'Yaw could have saved his career by coming clean after the rumours started,' opposition watcher Wong Wee Nam told The Straits Times.

Last month, rumours surfaced about Mr Yaw having had an extramarital affair.

Mr Yaw and the WP - from its ordinary members to its top leadership - repeatedly declined to comment, though Mr Yaw stepped down from his party's central executive committee on Feb 7.

If the rumours were true, Mr Yaw should have apologised, said Dr Wong. adding: 'I think people would have forgiven him.'

Academic Derek da Cunha noted that the saga, spanning more than three weeks, has been a distraction for the WP and meant it 'couldn't get into robust exchanges with the Government, with this distraction hovering over them'.

Expelling Mr Yaw also helps the WP 'take the moral high ground', something the party has been aiming to do in its emphasis on transparency and accountability, said Dr da Cunha.

Yet Mr Yaw's exit from the party is not the end of the saga, say observers.

The WP still owes a fuller explanation to voters, said former Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong.

Yesterday was the first substantive announcement by the WP on its position, and the party has the duty to explain to Hougang voters why there had been no indication earlier, said Mr Siew.

At the very least, the party could have said it was investigating the matter.

'Always 'no comment'. Suddenly, expelled. That's a big jump,' he said.

Dr Wong, however, thought the WP's silence might be 'excusable' if the party genuinely lacked information about the truth of the matter.

Even as questions remain about what exactly happened and how much party leaders knew about the alleged affair before it spilled into the open, observers say many people will be seized also by the more immediate question of whether there will be a by-election in the now-vacant Hougang seat.

It is a decision that rests with the Prime Minister.

Though Hougang is seen as a 'safe seat' for the WP, the party might lose some votes, say observers.

And if a by-election is held, the WP may have more to contend with more than just the People's Action Party. The possibility of a multi-cornered fight was raised by Dr Wong and Dr da Cunha.

Dr da Cunha noted that 'there has been a great deal of envy by hardline supporters of one or two other opposition parties, that the WP has a parliamentary presence of eight members whereas the parties they support have none'.

WP move helps lift grey cloud over it
By Chua Lee Hoong, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

'BETTER Yaw falls than Low falls,' I remarked with mock-poetic sagacity to a colleague a week ago as we tried analysing the implications of Mr Yaw Shin Leong's resignation from the Workers' Party's executive council.

Little did we know then how sharp the fall would be.

Mr Yaw, the WP's treasurer and protege of WP chief Low Thia Khiang for 10 years, as good as went into hiding yesterday to avoid media questioning, following the WP's announcement that it had sacked him from the party with immediate effect.

Calls went unanswered; photographers staking out his home had nothing to show for their hours of effort.

The 35-year-old could well have left Singapore a day earlier, as WP leaders said yesterday that they themselves had been unable to contact him. He had not shown up for a meeting called a day earlier to discuss his fate.

A sombre mood pervaded the entire half-hour press conference yesterday. Even Mr Low, who on most occasions has never been short on wisecracks and witty repartees, was sober and glum.

Hardly surprising, for what happened yesterday was nothing short of historic. It was the first time in Singapore's history that a sitting Member of Parliament from an opposition party, or from any party for that matter, had been expelled from his own party.

In 1993, Dr Chee Soon Juan tried to expel Mr Chiam See Tong, who was then MP for Potong Pasir, from the Singapore Democratic Party, but the latter challenged the ouster in court and won.

Mr Yaw is unlikely to be challenging his expulsion from the WP. His voluntary resignation from the WP's executive council last week amounted to a tacit admission that rumours about his private life were true.

His silence raised many questions: Did the WP know about the alleged affairs of a long-standing party leader? If so, when did it know? Was it shielding him by closing ranks, remaining silent, and refusing to be drawn on the issue?

It also highlighted an apparent double standard among some voters, with many of those interviewed being willing to set the talk about Mr Yaw's alleged affairs aside, in the name of supporting the political underdog, even as they were quick to champion openness and transparency as a matter of principle.

Still, at that point in time, there was a possibility of him making a comeback, say with an abject apology, a promise to turn over a new leaf, and a supportive wife standing by his side.

But now that option is closed - and the curtain is likely to fall on Mr Yaw's political career.

For the WP, the development is a setback, having lost one of its up-and-coming MPs in a most dramatic fashion.

Even so, for all the glum faces around the table yesterday, its decision to act against one of its own might well help lift the grey cloud that has hung over it in recent weeks.

More than that, it may go down in history as the party to precipitate the first by-election in a single-seat constituency in more than 30 years.

Interestingly, the messages from its two leaders, chairman Sylvia Lim in English and secretary-general Low in Mandarin, while broadly similar, differed in nuances and tone.

Ms Lim, the face of the WP for English-speaking Singaporeans, emphasised the importance of transparency and accountability, values presumably deemed important to the English-educated.

She said: 'WP believes strongly in transparency and accountability, and expects no less from our party members, especially our Members of Parliament... By continuing not to account to the party and the people, especially the residents of Hougang, he has broken the faith, trust and expectations of the party and people.'

Mr Low, on the other hand, paid more attention to Hougang voters specifically, saying in Mandarin: 'Hougang is the bastion defending Singapore's democratic politics, and without Hougang's support over the last 20 years, WP would not have had today's development. Singapore would not have made progress in the process of democratisation...

'We cannot let down Hougang voters' support and hopes. Therefore, we have decided to expel Yaw Shin Leong and let Hougang voters make a decision once again.'

What both WP leaders had in common in their statements, though, was the call for a by-election in their Hougang stronghold, which the party clearly reckons it would stand a good chance of retaining. Voters, they know, might well be inclined to be forgiving.

'We also believe it is only fair to the Hougang residents that they have another opportunity to elect their Member of Parliament. We apologise for having to put them through a by-election,' said Ms Lim.

For the benefit of younger readers, it is worth recalling that by-elections were a common feature of Singapore's political landscape in the 1970s. It was the WP's then leader, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, who won in the Anson by-election in 1981 and broke the PAP's monopoly in Parliament.

Since then, no by-election has been called in single-seat wards.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in 2008 that problems posed by a vacant seat were not insurmountable, as a neighbouring MP could take care of the ward.

However, the scenario he had in mind then was seats vacated by PAP MPs, not opposition MPs.

With over four years to go before another general election is due, it would be hard to avoid criticisms if no by-election is called in Hougang in the not-too-distant future.

Low back to woo Hougang again
More than half of Hougang residents interviewed express support for WP and its chief
By Teo Wan Gek & Lee Xin En, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

THE opposition stalwart who won Hougang in 1991 and left it in the safekeeping of his protege - only to have him expelled from the party just nine months after being elected - went back to his old homeground last night.

A ripple of excitement went through the crowd of close to 60 who had gathered at the Meet-the-People Session of former Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong when they recognised the familiar frame of Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang.

Amid shouts of 'Workers' Party!', Mr Low arrived at his old stomping ground in a show of unity after finishing his own MPS at neighbouring Aljunied GRC at 9.40pm.

Party chairman Sylvia Lim was helming the Hougang MPS, with Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong.

In a similar display of unity, a large crowd had thronged the perimeter of the void deck of Block 310 in Hougang Avenue 5, even before the session started.

Most were there to show their support for the WP.

Of the 40 Hougang residents interviewed last night, more than half said they will continue to support the WP because Mr Low had done much for them and the constituency.

Said Mr Tay Ah Huat, 33, an engineer: 'We support WP not because of Mr Yaw, but Mr Low and all that he has done for Hougang.'

Homemaker Yeo Hwee Keo, 72, who has lived in Hougang for more than 30 years, added: 'We have faith in Mr Low. We will support whoever the party sends to replace Mr Yaw.'

Yesterday, the WP announced that Mr Yaw had been expelled from the party for refusing to account to the party and the people, especially the residents of Hougang, for the accusations of indiscretions in his private life.

With his expulsion, the Hougang seat is up for grabs again when and if a by-election is called.

Of the residents interviewed, a few were critical of the expulsion, saying his private life should not have any bearing on his work.

Retiree Rose Bay, 64, felt he should not have been told to go as he was a good MP who served his residents well. 'Whether the rumours of the affairs are true or not, even his wife has stood by him. So why should the party interfere in his personal life?' she said.

But Madam Bay felt the WP will survive the saga.

Security officer Mike Manickam, 52, also felt Mr Yaw should not have been expelled. He said 'the WP must have done it to protect its reputation'.

Most residents interviewed supported the decision to expel Mr Yaw, saying it was the inevitable next step in the saga, and that it did not surprise them.

Cabby Jason Ng, 40, said: 'WP is doing the right thing, handling it very professionally, being accountable and transparent.'

'They can stand tall with their heads high and I believe they will gain more respect from residents for doing this. I have no worries for WP, I think this incident is just about one black sheep. It doesn't mean the whole flock is tainted.'

Mr Tay felt Mr Yaw had forced the WP's hand when he refused to clear the air about his alleged affairs. 'Mr Yaw is to be blamed for not being transparent with the party and the public, not WP. They tried to give him time to come clean but he did not,' he said.

For this reason, most feel that if a by-election was called the next day, the WP will prevail.

Mr Tan Boon Hua, 60, a deliveryman, said that while the WP's vote count may take a slight beating at the polls, the party will continue to hold on to the seat.

However, a few others said they consider not just the party brand, but also the calibre of the candidate sent to contest the single-seat constituency.

Mr Lee Chin Teck, 45, who works in an engineering company, said: 'I will vote for the candidate who can bring more to this area. Even though WP gave this area some cosmetic changes, I hope for more amenities and I will vote for the person who can do that.'

But Mr Simon Tan, 58, a newspaper vendor, is tired at the thought of going through another election. He will move to Ang Mo Kio GRC next month, and is only too glad to leave it all behind.

'He was only here for a few months. This is all such a waste of everybody's time.'

Chequered record filled with missteps
Even as Yaw rose up the WP ranks, he was no stranger to controversy
By Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

AFTER he filed his nomination papers for last May's General Election, expelled Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong used a Hokkien phrase to describe himself - 'pang sim'.

It means someone reliable that others can count on.

In recent weeks, however, his Workers' Party (WP) colleagues probably felt he was anything but that, as embarrassing allegations of his extramarital affairs threatened to drag all of them down.

They finally decided that, far from being reliable, he was a liability, and so turfed him out of the party on Tuesday.

It was done via an unceremonious phone call to his wife, as Mr Yaw went missing.

The turn of events also marked the end of a nine-month roller-coaster ride for the 35-year-old businessman, who went from WP chief Low Thia Khiang's chosen successor in Hougang, a new MP who bettered his boss' election record, to now the first opposition MP to be expelled and to lose his seat.

Mr Yaw is no stranger to the limelight. He began appearing in the media from as early as 1999, as a student activist and a civil society member of local socio-political think-tank Think Centre.

But ever since he entered the opposition fray in 2000, his has been a chequered track record filled with missteps, such as making known his decision to vote for a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate at the 2006 election.

Over the years, Mr Yaw has also drawn criticism among some in the opposition circle as an ambitious person eager to make a name for himself, and someone who would disappear and shirk his responsibility when problems cropped up.

Right after graduating from the National University of Singapore in 2000, Mr Yaw went looking for a political party to join, and volunteered briefly with former Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong's Singapore People's Party (SPP).

Sources in SPP say he was then an idealistic, passionate young man, but someone who was also in a hurry to succeed.

Said an SPP source: 'Shin Leong told the party that he had to quit because his mother objected to him joining opposition politics. But soon after, he joined the Workers' Party. Why?

'We think the real reason was that he didn't think Mr Chiam was going to give up leadership of the party soon.'

At the WP, Mr Yaw's stock rose as he won the trust of party leaders. He climbed the party ranks, moving from deputy organising secretary to chairman of the WP's Hougang Youth Action Committee, to Mr Low's legislative assistant from 2001 to 2005.

Mr Yaw would have made his debut in electoral politics in 2001, if not for a slip-up in the WP's nomination forms that year, which disqualified the team.

At the 2006 election, he rose to national fame when he led a 'suicide squad' of mostly young, first-time candidates to take on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's PAP team in Ang Mo Kio GRC. The WP lost, but Mr Yaw won plaudits for helping to secure a respectable 33.8 per cent of votes cast.

Some praised him for having the gumption to persuade his party bosses to agree to fielding a team in Ang Mo Kio GRC, so that the PAP leaders would be encumbered and less able to help out in the adjacent Aljunied GRC, which the WP was also gunning for.

He was also resourceful enough to secure a sponsor at the last minute who funded the six-member team.

But Ms Lee Wai Leng, who was on the WP's Ang Mo Kio GRC team, has a negative impression of Mr Yaw as an irresponsible person.

In 2006, she and Mr Yaw set up a company - Acemark Consultants - with her husband Ong Wee Teck and Mr Melvin Tan, both fellow WP members too. The company, which folded in 2007, was primarily doing website design, but it also branched into supplying biometric security systems to several companies in Cambodia, added Ms Lee, 32, who is now with the National Solidarity Party.

'The biometric systems were supplied by Shin Leong through his friend. But when technical problems cropped up and the clients could not operate the systems, Shin Leong just ran away and was uncontactable. In the end, the clients had to discard the systems,' she said.

In 2008, Mr Yaw stirred controversy when he revealed that he had voted for the PAP's Dr Teo Ho Pin, not the Singapore Democratic Party's Mr Ling How Doong, who were contesting the Bukit Panjang single-seat ward.

But it did not cripple his climb up the WP ranks.

Mr Yaw did not start out as a clear-cut anointed protege. Sources said he was one of several contenders to succeed Mr Low in Hougang, WP's stronghold since 1991. Others considered included former WP youth wing president Koh Choong Yong.

In the end, Mr Yaw won Mr Low's backing, in large part due to his Teochew background that could help him connect with the predominantly Teochew-speaking ward.

To his credit, he seized the chance and did not take victory for granted. He slogged hard, walking the ground every day to meet Hougang voters, rather than aiming for party-wide walkabouts or evening rallies alone.

In the end, he defeated the PAP's Mr Desmond Choo and retained Hougang with 64.8 per cent of the votes, better than Mr Low's career-high of 62.7 per cent.

Even in victory, he caused a minor stir when the day after Polling Day, he was involved in a road incident in Sengkang. His car hit a road barricade near the Rivervale Lane junction. He said he had dozed off momentarily before the accident and attributed his fatigue to the hectic campaign.

Party members said Mr Yaw's work ethic continued into his role as an elected MP in Hougang.

Said a party volunteer, who declined to be named: 'He was always looking for ideas to serve residents and Singaporeans. For instance, he hosted dialogues for real estate agents to discuss ways to improve their profession.'

But the latest developments, especially the way he handled allegations of his extramarital affairs, have left a sour taste with some party members.

One key member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that since the allegations surfaced, the party had been trying to get Mr Yaw to meet the leadership and give an explanation, to no avail.

'I can't understand why he did not want to defend himself. He probably didn't see the need to do so. It was irresponsible,' said the member.

Even as questions continue to swirl, Mr Yaw remained uncontactable yesterday.


2000: Graduates with a political science degree from National University of Singapore. Volunteers briefly in former Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong's Singapore People's Party

June 2001: Joins Workers' Party (WP)

November 2001: Is fielded on the WP team in Aljunied GRC but the group is disqualified because of a slip-up in their nomination forms

2001-2005: Serves as a legislative assistant for WP chief and then-Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang

May 2006: Leads the WP's 'suicide squad' of mostly young candidates in Ang Mo Kio GRC against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's People's Action Party (PAP) team. Appointed WP organising secretary a month later

May 2008: Criticised for revealing he had voted in 2006 for PAP's Dr Teo Ho Pin, not Singapore Democratic Party's Mr Ling How Doong

May 2011: Contests and wins Hougang constituency

June 2011: Takes over WP's treasurer post vacated by former leader Eric Tan

Jan 2012: Allegations of extramarital affairs surface on the Internet. Repeatedly refuses to comment

Feb 7, 2012: Quits as treasurer but remains a party member

Feb 15, 2012: WP announces decision to expel him from the party for failing to be transparent and accountable to the party and his constituents.

By-election for Hougang or not?
By Rachel Chang & Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2012

WITH former Workers' Party (WP) MP Yaw Shin Leong having vacated his seat, Hougang residents have been plunged into uncertainty, wondering if they will have to go to the polls again.

The law states that a by-election must be held when an MP has vacated his seat. But it does not spell out a time frame within which the prime minister must call the by-election.

On three separate occasions in 1983 and 1986, the PM chose not to call a by-election and voters in the affected wards went to the polling booths only in the following general election.

Constitutional law experts said the People's Action Party (PAP) Government has shown a clear preference to wait for a general election.

But they added that the present situation might be different, given that there are still four years left in this term of Parliament.

'As a matter of law, the PM does not have to explain his actions regarding a by-election,' said National University of Singapore law professor Thio Li-ann.

'But as a matter of politics, it would be imprudent of him not to call one.'

This is also the first time since 1988, when Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) were introduced, that a single-member seat is being vacated.

In the intervening years up to the last general election, two seats were vacated but they were part of a GRC.

Dr Ong Chit Chung of Jurong GRC died in 2008 and Dr Balaji Sadasivan of Ang Mo Kio GRC died in 2010.

Singapore Management University (SMU) assistant professor of law Jack Lee Tsen-Ta noted that the law is worded differently regarding GRCs: A by-election is mandated only if all of the MPs in a GRC vacate their seats.

In 2008, explaining why he would not call a by-election in Jurong GRC, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the other GRC team members would cover the additional duties.

He also said he did not see a by-election as absolutely necessary in a vacated single-seat constituency.

In the case of such seats, the ruling party could assign another MP to cover the ward, as was done in the past.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim yesterday said the party will take care of the constituency in Mr Yaw's absence - 'until the by-election'. She was not asked what it would do in the event that a by-election is not called until the next general election.

In fact, the late opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam attempted to challenge in court the lack of a by-election in Jurong GRC in 2008.

But the Jurong GRC resident he was representing chose to withdraw the application after Mr Jeyaretnam's death later that year.

'If the case had continued, we would have had the chance to know what the court's interpretation of the law is,' noted Prof Lee.

'We only know the Government's interpretation, and it has not as yet been challenged.'

Experts noted that the Interpretation Act, which provides definitions for all other Singapore statutes, states that if no timeframe is stipulated, it should be interpreted as 'with all convenient speed'.

This, suggests SMU assistant law professor Eugene Tan, would be three months.

Before 1965, when the law was changed, three months was the time within which a by-election had to be called.

There is no precedent for what has arisen in Hougang due to Mr Yaw's expulsion from the WP, said experts.

He is the first elected MP since 1963 to have been expelled from the party on whose ticket he was elected.

Before 1963, assemblymen, as MPs were called, were allowed to switch from one party to another freely while holding on to their seats - most famously when 13 PAP assemblymen abstained from a motion of confidence vote in 1961.

Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew moved to change the law to stop legislators 'holding their party to ransom by changing sides'.

WHEN a single-member parliamentary seat is vacated, the Constitution states that the Government shall call a by-election. For Group Representation Constituencies, a by-election needs to be called only if all seats in the GRC are vacated. But even for single-member seats, by-elections are not always called because the prime minister has the right to decide their timing, and there is no deadline for doing so. Here is what has happened since the 1980s each time a seat was vacated before the parliamentary term was completed:


Seat: Anson

MP: C.V. Devan Nair (PAP)

Reason for vacating: Mr Nair became President

By-election?: Yes

Result: Won by Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam (WP), with 52 per cent of the votes

Seat vacant for: 18 days


Seat: Havelock

MP: Hon Sui Sen (PAP)

Reason for vacating: Death

By-election?: No

Reason: The Government said electoral boundaries were being redrawn and a general election would be held early. The seat was filled at the 1984 General Election.

Seat vacant for: 14 months


Seat: Anson

MP: J.B. Jeyaretnam (WP)

Reason for vacating: Mr Jeyaretnam was convicted of false declaration of party accounts.

By-election?: No

Reason: The Government wanted to await the law to establish town councils. The seat was filled at the 1988 General Election.

Seat vacant for: 22 months


Seat: Geylang West

MP: Teh Cheang Wan (PAP)

Reason for vacating: Death

By-election?: No

Reason: The Government wanted to await the law to establish town councils.

The seat was filled at the 1988 General Election, when it became part of Jalan Besar GRC.

Seat vacant for: 21 months


Seat: Marine Parade GRC

MPs: All PAP MPs

Reason for vacating: Political renewal, as navy chief Teo Chee Hean (above) - now Deputy Prime Minister - entered politics.

By-election?: Yes

Result: Won by the PAP team led by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, with 73 per cent of the votes

Seat vacant for: 18 days


Seat: Jurong GRC

MP: Ong Chit Chung (PAP)

Reason for vacating: Death

By-election?: No

Reason: Not required. The seat was filled at the 2011 General Election.

Seat vacant for: 34 months


Seat: Ang Mo Kio GRC

MP: Balaji Sadasivan (PAP)

Reason for vacating: Death

By-election?: No

Reason: Not required. The seat was filled at the 2011 General Election.

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