Saturday 18 February 2012

Yaw Shin Leong's Expulsion from WP: Reactions

Yaw e-mails Speaker: Not fighting expulsion
Sacked Workers' Party MP effectively gives up claim to Hougang seat
By Andrea Ong & Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2012

NINE months after winning Hougang, Mr Yaw Shin Leong has abandoned his seat by deciding not to challenge or appeal against his sacking from the Workers' Party (WP) over his alleged extramarital affairs.

The expelled WP member e-mailed his decision to the Speaker of Parliament on Monday, even though he had a week - until tomorrow - to make up his mind.

In a statement yesterday, Speaker Michael Palmer said that he would make a formal announcement on the vacancy in the Hougang single-seat constituency at Tuesday's sitting.

With that, Parliament will now have 86 elected members, as the Constitution requires an MP to vacate his seat if he ceases to be a member of the party on whose ticket he was elected.

The party informed Parliament of his expulsion on Feb 16, two days after it happened, and the Speaker had given Mr Yaw a week to contest or accept it, before making the final decision.

This latest turn in the saga comes even as questions hang over Mr Yaw's unremitting silence over the allegations, and his party's sudden decision to axe him and push for a by-election.

Last night, the WP revealed that it had set up a by-election committee, with party chief Low Thia Khiang saying that it was prudent to do so and to take care of Hougang residents in the meantime.

Mr Low, who has been in a war of words with former People's Action Party MP Ho Kah Leong over the by-election issue, refused to be drawn further on the subject. Among other things, Mr Ho accused the WP of seeking the use of a by-election, which requires public funds, to uphold party discipline and image. To this, Mr Low asked why Mr Goh Chok Tong had quit as Marine Parade GRC MP to hold a by-election in 1992.

This prompted a response from Mr Goh yesterday. In a letter in today's Forum page, his press secretary explained that the then Prime Minister had given early notice of the by-election. He had gone for a by-election for renewal and to give the late opposition veteran J.B. Jeyaretnam, who could not stand in the 1991 General Election due to a conviction, a chance to run. Mr Jeyaretnam had said the early polls were called to thwart him.

Said the letter: 'Then PM Goh had been transparent about the reasons... from the beginning.'

Last night, at his Meet-the-People Session, Mr Low declined to be drawn into a response, saying he would leave readers to judge. He said he was on the WP by-election committee, which also includes party chairman Sylvia Lim and Mr Pritam Singh, both Aljunied GRC MPs, and Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam.

Mr Low has been walking in Hougang, saying he was attending wakes and functions. He has sometimes been accompanied by Mr Png Eng Huat, a WP veteran deployed to helm the grassroots committee in Hougang. 'Sometimes I walk alone,' said Mr Low, who declined to say if Mr Png could be a candidate.

Hougang resident S. H. Tan, 76, who met Mr Low walking in Hougang, said he would tell Mr Yaw off if he saw him. 'I would tell him, 'I gave you my vote last year, how could you do this now?'' said the retiree.

Mr Yaw's whereabouts remain a mystery. Sources said the businessman skipped town on Feb 15.

Comparison to Marine Parade by-election 'inappropriate'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2012

It is 'inappropriate' to draw a comparison between a possible by-election in Hougang - forced by the surprise sacking of Mr Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party (WP) - and the 1992 by-election in Marine Parade GRC, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's press secretary has said.

In a letter to The Straits Times, published on Thursday, Mr Foo Kok Jwee took issue with WP chief Low Thia Khiang's reference to the 1992 by-election when rebutting a charge that his party was abusing the democratic system for partisan purposes.

Mr Foo set out the context for why Mr Goh had called for the 1992 by-election.

The then new Prime Minister had given early notice that he would call for by-elections within 18 months. He was also clear about the two reasons from the outset:

One, 'to field more good candidates for self-renewal' in the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the Government.

It was then that current Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was inducted into politics.

Two, to give then WP chief J.B. Jeyaretnam - disqualified from standing in the 1991 General Election due to a conviction - a chance to contest for election. The opposition veteran had protested that Mr Goh had called for early polls in 1991 to keep him out of Parliament.

Said Mr Foo on Thursday: 'Then PM Goh had been transparent about the reasons for the 1992 Marine Parade GRC by-election from the beginning. The by-election was also expected.

'Mr Low therefore cannot compare the reasons for his causing a by-election in Hougang with then PM Goh's purpose in having one in Marine Parade GRC in 1992.'

Mr Foo was responding to The Straits Times' report on Monday about a war of words between Mr Low and former PAP MP Ho Kah Leong in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao's forum pages. The two had locked horns over the WP's decision to expel Mr Yaw for not coming clean on his alleged extramarital affairs.

Mr Ho, a former senior parliamentary secretary, wrote a letter, published in the newspaper on Saturday last week, which castigated the WP's conduct in the matter.

Among other criticisms, he said the WP was abusing the democratic system by triggering a by-election - which requires public funds - 'to maintain party discipline and a virtuous public image'.

Mr Low responded in a letter published on Monday. Saying he agreed an election is a serious matter, he cited how in 1992, Mr Goh resigned as a Marine Parade GRC MP, resulting in a by-election in the GRC one year after the 1991 polls.

Said Mr Low: 'If it is an 'abuse of the democratic process' to expel Yaw Shin Leong because he was irresponsible and lost public trust, in 1992, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong took the initiative to resign, causing a by-election in Marine Parade GRC.'

Mr Ho countered this in a second letter published on Tuesday, saying that the 1992 by-election was held 'in line with public interests'. He also said he found it difficult to understand why Mr Low thinks he does not need to bear any responsibility for what happened.

Said Mr Ho: 'He had a master-apprentice relationship with Yaw Shin Leong for over 10 years, and even appointed him the important role as the party treasurer. It is not possible that Mr Low knew nothing about Mr Yaw's life.'

Even as the party itself refused to be drawn further into the saga, on Wednesday, Mr Chen Show Mao, one of WP's five Aljunied GRC MPs, made his first comments on the matter. He posted on Facebook that Hougang constituents should have another chance to elect their MP.

'Following the events that led to this, we have made a decision on what our belief in transparency and accountability requires of us; our focus is ensuring that the constituents of Hougang and Aljunied continue to be well served. I will do my best to make sure that it is the case.'

The law states that a by-election must be held when an MP has vacated his seat, but is silent on the timeframe within which it must be conducted.

PM Lee Hsien Loong, on whom the decision rests, has said the voters of Hougang have been let down by the WP; that he would have to consider carefully whether to call a by-election; and that there are many important issues on the national agenda.

Exchange of words

WORKERS' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and former People's Action Party MP Ho Kah Leong exchanged words in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao's forum pages in recent days. Here are edited excerpts:

Mr Low in a letter published on Monday:

'Though I was familiar with Yaw Shin Leong's background... I have no way and no authority to inspect his private matters and personal life. Mr Ho said I should take responsibility for the saga. May I ask how I should take responsibility?

'I agree an election is a serious matter. If the WP has 'abused the democratic system' by causing a by-election, as a result of expelling Mr Yaw due to his failure to account to the party and loss of public trust, then consider the events of 1992, when then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong voluntarily resigned and caused a by-election in Marine Parade GRC.'

Mr Ho in a letter published on Tuesday:

'Mr Low thinks he does not need to bear any responsibility for the Yaw Shin Leong saga. I find it hard to understand this. He had a master-apprentice relationship with Mr Yaw for over 10 years, and even appointed him the important role as the party treasurer. It is not possible that Mr Low knew nothing about his life.

'Singapore has held numerous by-elections since its independence. But the past by-elections, including the 1992 Marine Parade GRC by-election, were held for a specific purpose and were in line with public interests.

'They were not held for a political party's own interests. They were not like the possible by-election to be held in Hougang, which is to serve the purpose of saving face for the WP and upholding a good image for the party.'

WP's Low Thia Khiang wrong to cite 1992 by-election 
TUESDAY'S report ('WP 'had absolutely no idea of Yaw's alleged affairs'') described the letter by Mr Low Thia Khiang, secretary-general of the Workers' Party (WP), published in Lianhe Zaobao on Monday.
Mr Low had cited the 1992 by-election in Marine Parade GRC called by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, to rebut an allegation that the WP had 'abused the democratic system' by causing a by-election in Hougang when the WP expelled Mr Yaw Shin Leong.
The reference to the 1992 by-election is inappropriate.
When Mr Goh announced on Aug 17, 1991 that he would call for an early general election to secure a strong mandate to govern, he said at the same time that he would call for by-elections within 18 months to field more good candidates for self-renewal and to give (the late) Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam a chance to contest for election into Parliament.
Mr Jeyaretnam had complained that Mr Goh had called for an early general election to keep him out of Parliament, as he was still disqualified from standing for elections at that time.
Mr Goh had been transparent about the reasons for the 1992 Marine Parade GRC by-election from the beginning.
The by-election was also expected.
Mr Low therefore cannot compare the reasons for his causing a by-election in Hougang with Mr Goh's purpose in having one in Marine Parade GRC in 1992. 
Foo Kok Jwee
Press Secretary to
Emeritus Senior Minister
ST Forum, 23 Feb 2012

Yaw has a week to respond to party sacking
Parliament will decide on vacancy after that
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2012

SACKED Workers' Party (WP) member Yaw Shin Leong has until Friday next week to inform Parliament if he intends to appeal against or challenge his expulsion from the party.

Parliament will decide on the vacancy of the Member for Hougang's seat when it receives Mr Yaw's reply or after the deadline expires.

Addressing the issue for the first time since news broke on Wednesday of the opposition party's decision to boot Mr Yaw out, Speaker Michael Palmer set out Parliament's course of action.

He said WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had, in a letter dated Feb 16, informed him that Mr Yaw had been expelled from the Workers' Party as of Feb 14.

Yesterday morning, the Clerk of Parliament wrote a letter to Mr Yaw, asking him to inform her in writing by Feb 24 if he intends to appeal against or challenge the expulsion.

That was also what Parliament did in 1993, when the Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) central executive committee (CEC) moved to expel then Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong.

The WP decided to expel Mr Yaw, 35, earlier this week after his repeated refusals to come clean on his alleged extramarital affairs.

The WP also declared its readiness for a by-election in Hougang, as the Constitution states that an MP has to vacate his seat if he ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigns from, the political party on whose ticket he was elected.

Yesterday, Mr Palmer quoted from the Constitution, and made clear that Parliament makes the final decision on whether a Member has vacated his seat.

That is in accordance with Article 48(a) of the Constitution, which states that any question as to whether a Member of Parliament has vacated his seat 'shall be determined by Parliament whose decision shall be final'.

Article 48 also contains a proviso which permits Parliament to postpone its decision 'in order to allow for the taking or determination of any proceedings that may affect the decision'.

Mr Palmer said: 'It is presently unknown whether Mr Yaw is appealing against the Workers' Party decision or is otherwise challenging his expulsion.'

It is not clear if Mr Yaw has received the Clerk of Parliament's letter. The Straits Times understands that Parliament sent the letter to Mr Yaw's addresses in its records, but Mr Yaw has reportedly left town and relocated overseas.

Neither Mr Yaw nor his wife, Madam Lau Wang Lin, responded to queries yesterday.

In 1993, Mr Chiam successfully obtained a court order to prove that his expulsion from the SDP was illegal.

Mr Chiam had argued that the decision by the party's CEC to sack him was not valid as the supreme authority of the SDP was a party conference comprising all its cadres. Furthermore, the CEC had failed to convene a special party conference requested by the cadres before it proceeded to expel him, said Mr Chiam.

He had asked then Speaker Tan Soo Khoon to '(hold) his hands' until the legality of his expulsion was decided at the SDP's next conference.

Mr Chiam had then obtained a legal injunction against the SDP CEC, restraining them from sacking him.

Mr Tan had then announced that it was 'not appropriate for (him) to ask Parliament to take any decision until the parties have resolved these issues'.

In Mr Yaw's case, the WP Constitution gives its executive council the power to expel a member 'if satisfied that the conduct of any member is contrary to the principles or aims or objects of the Party or prejudicial to the welfare of the Party'.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim said on Wednesday that the council had made its deliberations with this article in mind.

A sacked member can submit a resolution at the party's next conference of organisers to revoke his expulsion. The conference will then vote on whether to accept his appeal. The WP's next conference of organisers is due later this year.

Separately, The Straits Times understands that WP leaders will meet Mr Yaw's Hougang grassroots members soon to address their concerns and ensure continuity there.

The five Aljunied GRC MPs will also take turns to helm Meet-the-People Sessions in Hougang.

On Wednesday, Mr Low said he was confident Hougang residents would not suffer a fall in the level of care they receive from now until a by-election is called.

Under the law, the Prime Minister decides whether or not to call a by-election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday that he would consider carefully whether and when to hold a by-election in Hougang. He also added that 'there are many other issues on the national agenda right now'. Special: The Expulsion of Yaw Shin Leong

1. Bridget Welsh, Associate Professor at Singapore Management University
2. Lim Wee Keat, Political blogger & president for the Political Science Society at the National University of Singapore
3. Caleb Wong, Hougang resident. 

*More online responses
Go Dutch - Words of the Cze
WP now Whiter than White - The Online Citizen

What the Workers' Party could have done better
By Derrick Paulo, TODAY, 18 Feb 2012

When the Workers' Party (WP) alerted the media last Wednesday afternoon of its press conference later that same day, with no further details, there was an immediate buzz among journalists.

Over the years, journalists have become used to the WP simply issuing a press statement whenever it had news to convey.

This had to be big. The expulsion of erstwhile Hougang Member of Parliament Yaw Shin Leong was widely anticipated, yet the contrast with the WP's traditional "no comment" was still stark.

Pressed by reporters on a number of occasions to talk about issues dominating the news agenda or to open up about party developments, the WP has often opted to keep its heads down. Years of past missteps by the Opposition seem to have cemented a cautious mindset. Having said that, this approach did not hurt its performance at the ballot box last year.

But now, the question being asked is whether the party could have handled the entire Yaw affair better. And did it make the right decision?

The latter question is really for the voters of Hougang to answer, and no one else.

Some voters may make the distinction between the private and public lives of their elected representatives. Others may not.

Some may be concerned that their constituency's seat in Parliament is vacant. Others may not.

Some may worry about who will look after municipal matters. Others may not.

After People's Action Party (PAP) MP Ong Chit Chung died in 2008, his Jurong Group Representation Constituency team member, Madam Halimah Yacob, said that grassroots leaders and residents were satisfied with the arrangements made to look after his ward.

The WP now has five full MPs, including one who had served Hougang for 20 years. The ball is in the party's court, and they will eventually get their reply from the voters of Hougang. 


Less easy to answer is the first question. Could the WP have handled the Yaw affair better?

Since the General Election, Opposition observers have argued the emergence of a political halo effect - voters, it seems, care less about individual candidates than about the image of their party.

Outside of Hougang, the concern is not about how well the WP will look after the residents in the Single Member Constituency henceforth.

What Singaporeans want is an insight into the manner in which the WP handled the matter and the thinking of its leadership.

Not so much those voters entrenched on either side of the political fence, but the middle ground, the ground for instance that is said to have tipped neighbouring Aljunied GRC into the hands of the WP.

Despite all the allegations against Mr Yaw online and in the mainstream media, we do not yet know conclusively if they are true or not.

But from what the WP leadership said at its press conference, it is clear that they were unable to get one of their key, young leaders to account to the party - and by extension, his constituents - for almost a month.

That was the reason given for his expulsion. It may well be said that the final decision was a brave, principled one. But in a crisis, such principles have to be displayed from the start.


This may be the first time since the Low Thia Khiang era that the WP is finding itself under such intense media scrutiny outside the hustings.

The party's overly cautious mindset might have been the default as it sought to ferret out the truth.

Unfortunately for the WP, the electorate has high expectations of the party that campaigned on the slogan of wanting a "First World Parliament".

Just as it has been said that the PAP is sometimes a victim of its success, it is hard to forget that the WP promised repeatedly at the last election to put the nation's interests before those of the party.

Given that the WP had said it wanted Mr Yaw to account for himself all along, it should have done the same by spelling out what it had planned to do as soon as the damaging media reports about Mr Yaw began surfacing. Setting out a course of action is not tantamount to passing pre-emptive judgment on Mr Yaw, and should not be seen as such.

But one might ask: Was this a matter of concern to the public in the first place?

Many readers have written in with different views but, in the words of the WP leadership themselves, the party believes strongly in transparency and accountability.

If media strategy - and not a U-turn in party position - was where the WP slipped up, then this may be a high-profile lesson for the WP, that there is a difference between keeping the media at bay and keeping the public in the dark.

If, however, this is a case of the WP leadership not being able to reach a consensus or initially turning a blind eye to a lapse in discipline, then some might wonder if the WP is coming apart at the seams.

Mr Gerald Giam, who heads the WP media team, said the final decision on Mr Yaw was not unanimous. WP chief Low Thia Khiang said there was a clear majority.

Disagreements within political parties are to be expected, some might say even encouraged, at least on matters of policy.

However, we have seen what has happened all too often in the past, in other Opposition parties, when the leadership core fails to show unity on discipline, decision or direction.

Derrick A Paulo is senior editor (Voices) with Today.

No-show at meeting sealed Yaw Shin Leong's fate
'Emotional, robust' meeting that ended with a 'heavy-hearted' vote
By Kor Kian Beng & Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2012

Even as their meeting began, several leaders of the opposition Workers' Party (WP) had their ears peeled for the footfalls of someone walking into the room.

All they heard was a crushing silence. And so the party's central executive council began discussing Mr Yaw Shin Leong's alleged sexual peccadilloes.

By the time the discussion on Tuesday ended, the 16 council members present voted by 'a clear majority' to sack him.

Several who spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity said that if he had shown up for the pow-wow, he might well have been spared the axe.

One member said that even if he had come and confirmed that the allegations against him were true, there were some in the council who might not have supported the decision to call for a vote on whether to expel Mr Yaw. 'If he had turned up, we could have closed ranks around him, and discussed ways to manage the situation together,' said the member.

'The last straw for us was his refusal to turn up to account for the rumours. It goes against the party's beliefs in maintaining transparency and accountability.'

Members said Mr Yaw had ample notice of the meeting. He and the council members were informed last Friday.

But the ex-Hougang MP, who had already quit the council and his post as party treasurer on Feb 7, all but indicated that he would be a no-show.

During the Chinese New Year celebrations over the weekend both in Hougang and Aljunied GRC, he mingled with WP leaders and members alike, smiling and shaking hands. But that masked a stubborn digging in of the heels, despite prodding from several members, sources said.

In the end, the meeting sealed his fate, but not before an 'emotional' and 'robust' discussion, said council members.

'We were all very heavy-hearted,' said one. 'We knew the consequences of sacking him. No one wanted to do such a thing to a party colleague.'

A vote was called on whether to expel Mr Yaw for his repeated refusals to give an account over the allegations. At a press conference on Wednesday, WP leaders said the decision was not unanimous but a 'clear majority' had prevailed.

One council member said there were members who had opposed or abstained, but declined to reveal how the voting went. Another member said: 'We do not want to give the impression that the party is split on this issue. We had a discussion, there was a diversity of views, we called a vote, and we remain united behind the party's decision.'

Those who objected to the expulsion felt it might not have been fair to Mr Yaw, and urged the leadership to try harder to cajole or coerce him to appear before the council.

'Some also felt that Shin Leong had contributed a lot to the party over the years. For instance, he helped new candidates by giving them advice and pointers on campaigning,' said a member.

'Shin Leong himself had also worked really hard at the last general election campaigning in Hougang, which helped him secure a good result.'

There were also council members who felt a strong emotional attachment to Mr Yaw as they had either worked closely with him in the party, or had joined the party shortly after the 2006 polls when he helped raise the WP's profile.

As he rose up the party ranks, Mr Yaw also gathered a base. Sources said they comprise mostly younger members, enamoured in part by his leadership of a 'suicide squad' of candidates who took on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's PAP team in Ang Mo Kio GRC in 2006 and secured 33.8 per cent of votes cast.

Some council members were also said to be fearful of the repercussions of expelling Mr Yaw, as a by-election would not be a sure win for a WP mired in controversy.

The recent weeks' events had also drawn a mixed reaction from ordinary party members. Some were unhappy they had to find out from the media about Mr Yaw's resignation from the council and his subsequent expulsion from the party.

Others, like Mr Mohamed Fairoz, 33, felt the council had done its best in a difficult situation.

Mr Fairoz, who knew Mr Yaw from their National University of Singapore years and sits on his Hougang grassroots arm, admitted the news shook him. But he said: 'Whatever it is the council decided, they have thought it through carefully and it's for the good of the party.'

Mr Yaw's expulsion has triggered other questions among observers.

The minimum number of opposition MPs in Parliament had been raised from three to nine through the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme.

Now that he is no longer in Parliament, some have asked if the opposition would be entitled to one more NCMP seat. Constitutional law expert Kevin Tan said there is no need to fill the vacant seat with a third NCMP if a by-election is called within a reasonable period.

Still, Mr Yaw's exit has not been formalised. Contacted on Thursday night, Parliament's deputy clerk Siow Peng Han told The Straits Times that the WP had not yet informed Parliament or the Speaker about his sacking, as required by law.

But he said Speaker Michael Palmer would 'make an announcement' at the start of Friday's parliamentary sitting.

Mr Yaw is believed to be overseas.

His cellphone? Silent.

High standards must not be compromised

THE Workers' Party (WP) finally found the courage to expel its Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong ('Workers' Party expels Yaw'; yesterday).

While the party has made the right decision, it was long overdue.

The public would have accepted it better if the party had sacked Mr Yaw earlier, but having said that, better late than letting the rumours about Mr Yaw's extramarital affair fester further.

The party must now take stock and examine its policy of transparency and accountability of its Members of Parliament and future candidates.

This may also be the right time for the WP to spring-clean its house.

Its current MPs and future candidates should go through a tighter process of scrutiny.

They must achieve the gold standard for transparency, integrity, honesty and trustworthiness just like what the People's Action Party Government has always demonstrated. A by-election, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted, is a serious matter ('WP has let Hougang voters down'; yesterday).

Singaporeans must continue to have high expectations of future political leaders.

The standard cannot be lowered.

Close public scrutiny is the price political leaders must pay for the right to represent voters.

Every politician must be transparent, honest, trustworthy and accountable publicly.

Daniel Chia
ST Forum, 17 Feb 2012

Can Workers' Party ride out the Yaw scandal?
Questions remain after sacking of Hougang MP over his alleged extramarital affairs
By Kor Kian Beng , Rachel Chang , Teo Wan Gek, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2012

Suddenly, after being seen as the most disciplined opposition party since the last general election (GE), the Workers' Party (WP) had a bit of a climbdown last week.

After steadfastly refusing to explain itself, the party sacked its Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong for not accounting to the WP leadership amid mounting allegations of extramarital affairs, including with a married WP member.

The prurient interest may be on Mr Yaw's sexual shenanigans but the political implications rest squarely on the party leadership's - especially WP chief Low Thia Khiang's - handling of the saga.

First, the sacking, coming after weeks of silence by the WP and Mr Yaw over his alleged extramarital affairs, still leaves many questions unanswered even as the party's top ranks held a half-hour press conference and issued two statements to explain their actions.

Are the allegations true? If they are, did Mr Low, who had mentored Mr Yaw since 2001, know about them but went ahead anyway to pick his protege as his successor in Hougang at the GE last May?

If Mr Low did not know about the alleged misdemeanours, what does it say about his judgment and the party's candidate selection process?

Among those asking these questions is teacher P.S. Tan, 37, who said: 'Perhaps Mr Low had formed his team of candidates too quickly without doing a thorough check.'

He added that Mr Low would have to show voters how the WP has tightened its screening and selection of candidates at future elections.

Those who are following the saga and also happen to be voters in WP-held constituencies appear to be more sympathetic.

For example, a poll of 50 Hougang residents found that 48 of them supported the party in its decision to sack Mr Yaw. In Aljunied GRC, where Mr Low leads the five-MP team, 38 out of 50 residents polled felt the same way.

Most residents also preferred to give Mr Low the benefit of the doubt - that he must have been unaware of the allegations against Mr Yaw. As Mr Low himself explained, sometimes, one cannot know those to whom one is closest.

Said lawyer R. Singh, 46: 'Mr Low spent so many years working in Hougang and building it up as the WP power base. Why would he let his hard work go down the drain if he had known? I believe he would have picked someone else to head Hougang.'

Observers say that while voters in WP-held constituencies would understandably be more forgiving, the stark fact is that Mr Low's reputation has taken a hit.

Can he recover from it and put this episode firmly behind him and the party?

Political observer Zulkifli Baharudin said that he expected Mr Low to have done his calculations and concluded 'that his reputation is strong enough to survive a by-election'.

Others say that Mr Low has been adroit at setting the agenda in the past and has done so again this time, by going for broke to expel Mr Yaw and set the stage for a by-election.

Under the Constitution, an MP who loses membership of the party under which he contested the polls is deemed to have vacated the seat.

Mr Yaw, 35, who has left Singapore and is said to be relocating, has until Friday to inform Parliament whether he intends to appeal against or challenge his expulsion.

A by-election then has to be called but there is no framework on the timing. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who will have to decide on the by-election, has said he has to consider the matter carefully as elections are a serious matter. Noting that 'there are many other issues on the national agenda right now', he also said the WP had let the voters of Hougang down.

Taking the WP to task, People's Action Party (PAP) chairman Khaw Boon Wan said the WP had misled voters and urged the party, not just Mr Yaw, to come clean about its choice of candidate in Mr Yaw and why it took the actions it did.

For now, by taking the route of expulsion rather than making further entreaties to Mr Yaw to explain himself, the WP is trying to ensure that talk about the scandal would swing to excitement about a by-election.

Said Mr Zulkifli, a former Nominated MP: 'In one fell swoop, Mr Low is changing the conversation from his wayward protege and the insubordination Mr Yaw showed him, to: When is the by-election?'

Agreeing, National University of Singapore's Dr Reuben Wong said: 'WP knew the expulsion would put the PAP in a spot, as not calling for one in an opposition ward would smack of opportunism.'

But until a by-election is held, what many Hougang residents are concerned about is the WP's efforts in serving their needs. The WP said that its Aljunied GRC MPs will take turns to helm Hougang Meet-the- People Sessions.

Said Mr Lau Mun Hou, 35, who is between jobs: 'Mr Low's chosen successor has left Hougang in limbo. Mr Low should return to take care of residents here for at least three months as this is a major issue.'

Mr Lau also said the saga showed that Mr Low's next chosen candidate for Hougang would now need to be beyond reproach if voters are to stay loyal to the WP and if other party leaders are to keep faith with him.

Internally among party members, some names are already being tossed about.

They include its GE 2011 Sengkang West candidate Koh Choong Yong, 38, its webmaster; and Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian, 33, its youth wing president. Others are its Non-Constituency MPs - Mr Gerald Giam, 35, and Mr Yee Jenn Jong, 46 - though they are unlikely candidates, as fielding the NCMPs would lead to the WP having one fewer representative in Parliament.

For some, the bet is on Mr Koh, an IT consultant who is effectively bilingual and proficient in the Teochew dialect spoken mostly in Hougang.

Married with two sons, Mr Koh, who is now serving as a legislative assistant to Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao in the Paya Lebar ward, also projects the image of a devoted family man. He regularly posts photographs of his family on his Facebook account, presenting a different image from Mr Yaw.

Mr Low also has to manage the impact within the WP as it gears up for an executive council election likely to be held by July, said sources.

The 55-year-old veteran has considerable cachet. Since taking over as secretary-general from the late Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam in 2001, he has shored up strong support by transforming the party from an ill-disciplined ragtag team into a tightly organised, highly disciplined outfit.

He has also worked diligently to groom a succession of young, credible, quietly ambitious candidates.

But the influx of new members, including some very qualified and well received among cadres, could change the power balance in the top ranks in the coming years.

Within the party, there remains a buzz over Mr Chen, 51, a former top corporate lawyer who is now a full-time Aljunied GRC MP.

Will there be those cadres who feel that the handling of the Yaw saga was less than skilful and want to signal their displeasure at the council elections? A point worth noting: The vote to sack Mr Yaw was not unanimous, though a 'clear majority' prevailed.

The Yaw scandal has been contained but it is not over, and when a by-election is held, the party will still have some accounting to do.

Mr Zulkifli said the saga is a test of the WP's ability to stay united. As a small party with big ambitions, it would tend to attract new members whose backgrounds and loyalty might be hard to ascertain. Even if the process is thorough, the party's resources are limited.

He said: 'The WP's challenge is to continue growing while staying united.'

Hougang comes to grips with vanishing MP
Younger residents more critical, disappointed with Yaw Shin Leong, even as old stalwarts shrug off events
By Cheow Xin Yi, TODAY, 19 Feb 2012

Relaxing at the coffeeshop at Block 322, Hougang Avenue 5 on Saturday afternoon with his friend, retiree Philip Toh, 68, was reminiscing about that milestone day more than 20 years ago, when Workers' Party's Mr Low Thia Khiang wrested Hougang ward from the People's Action Party (PAP).

That had been a heady time for the two long-time residents and WP supporters. And when this reporter asked if the latest scandal involving Mr Low's young successor as Member of Parliament (MP) for Hougang had undermined residents' sentiments, Mr Chan Cheng San - who had been relatively silent up till now - chimed in: "You don't know this neighbourhood very well do you?"

"Hougang is different from the other neighbourhoods. This is a die-hard estate," the taxi driver in his 40s declared.

That, however, remains to be seen.

While older residents like the duo might shrug off recent events, younger ones - particularly those who voted for Mr Yaw Shin Leong only nine months ago, in the May 2011 General Election - have been more palpably disturbed and disappointed.

First, by the talk surrounding Mr Yaw's alleged extramarital affairs. Then, more importantly, his stubborn refusal to clear the air or come clean. And now, following his expulsion from the party on Wednesday, the news that he had left the country with nary a word to anyone.

The last was too much for Ms Peh Liying, 28. "I just think that it's not easy for the Opposition to be able to win more votes than the PAP, and for him to just disappear like that, and having to hold another election again ... it's definitely irresponsible," she said.


Sales executive Gwen Tang, 24, who moved into Hougang last year in time to cast her vote - which went to Mr Yaw - said: "A lot of people are really quite disappointed. Last year (during the GE), there was this sense that we were going to support the WP ... And when he got elected, everyone was very excited. And then this (incident) had to happen so shortly after. There was a sense of being let-down."

Last May's election saw Mr Low leaving his long-time stronghold in Hougang to contest Aljunied Group Representation Constituency as part of a WP team. Some pundits then had predicted it would be an easier battle for the ruling party to win back the single-seat ward. Newspaper reports reflected conflicting sentiment among Hougang voters.

As it turned out, Mr Yaw easily beat his PAP opponent, Mr Desmond Choo, with 65 per cent of the vote.

But nine months later, Hougang residents are being put through another political and emotional roller-coaster.

For now Mr Yaw remains the ward's MP, with until Feb 24 to appeal the expulsion. If his MP seat is forfeited, a by-election may be called.


To another 30-year-old Hougang resident who had voted for Mr Yaw, his disappointment was with the party's pick of Mr Yaw to represent them (although, he added, he still "has faith in their intention as an organisation").

"It's just very unfortunate that they did not know him well enough to appreciate that he was not up to mark. When the occasion required him to behave appropriately, he didn't. Rather, he gave the impression that he ran away just to evade all this attention," said the civil servant who declined to be named.

Property agent Kenji Wong, 27, felt the WP did right in sacking him based on his action - even as, at the same time, he felt it was a pity for Mr Yaw. "As an MP, he really did his job, was very approachable. I always saw him mingling with the old people and helping them. He was always seen here at the coffeeshops."

But mechanic Mr Wong, 50, was one person who was not sorry to see Mr Yaw go. A resident in Hougang for more than 20 years, he said: "I'm very disappointed. As a people's representative, you shouldn't have affairs."

He also said Mr Yaw did not make a good first impression when he was introduced to Mr Wong's friend last year - his face "immediately changed" when told he wasn't a Hougang voter, the mechanic claimed. He preferred Mr Desmond Choo - "I think he is very humble and friendly".


Others like Mrs Woo, while let down by Mr Yaw, thought the WP had rallied together and moved forward. Mr Tan Kim Her, another retiree in his 70s, said: "Low Thia Khiang has left too good an impression among residents. People here support the party, not the person."

At least a few still wanted to give Mr Yaw the benefit of the doubt, vanishing act notwithstanding. General worker Mr Seow hopes the missing MP will eventually return. "He may have just needed to get away for a while to cool down, get away from the media attention and think things through. What's to say he won't come back?"

Then there were residents who just seemed blase about the whole saga. At least two joked about enjoying a public holiday if a by-election were held.

One resident of Block 702, who declined to be name, insisted he would rather talk about the bedbugs from a bed in Block 704 that he heard that was giving residents trouble.

"The guys from the town council just lifted the whole bed, and the fleas were flying out and sucking people's blood. You guys should go report on that instead!"

The value of a by-election
By Eugene K B Tan, TODAY, 20 Feb 2012

If Parliament eventually determines that the Hougang seat has been vacated with the expulsion of Mr Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party (WP), the spotlight will shift to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. 

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the President issues an election writ stipulating when a by-election is to be held. But it is the Prime Minister who so advises the President.

When asked last Wednesday, PM Lee said he would consider carefully "whether and when to hold a by-election in Hougang". This appears to suggest that a by-election need not be held in Hougang.

There is no obligation under the Constitution to hold a by-election within a specific time-frame. In 2008, PM Lee told Parliament that the timing of one "is the prerogative of the PM. He has full discretion and he is not obliged to call a by-election within any fixed timeline".

While the Prime Minister has the prerogative on the timing, I would argue that this does not extend to his having an unfettered discretion to delay the calling of a by-election indefinitely. In most instances, it has to be called within a reasonable time, or certainly without an inordinate delay. In short, the "default" position should be that a by-election should be automatic, although there is no hard and fast rule on the timing.


There may be three reasons why a by-election may not be called. This could be when an MP switches political party, or when Parliament's term is coming to a close within the next 12 to 18 months, or if there is a national crisis. None of them is pertinent at this point in time.

By-elections have been called in the past even though the General Election had taken place recently. For instance, by-elections in 1967, 1968, 1977, 1981 and 1992 were called between six and 16 months prior to or after a General Election in 1968, 1976, 1980 and 1991.

Delaying the calling of a by-election to the point of not calling it would, in my view, not be in accord with the duty of due process. It would, arguably, constitute an exercise of discretion for which a legal challenge can be mounted. The fact that the Constitution is silent on when a by-election should be called does not mean one need not be called.

In any case, if the Government decides to delay or not to hold a by-election in Hougang, the Government should state its reasons. 

In November 1987, the Government explained why a by-election was not conducted in both Anson and Geylang West: It was contemplating introducing a Bill to form town councils in which some boundaries might be re-delineated, including the vacated seats of Anson and Geylang West. (Eventually, the GE was held on Sept 3, 1988.)


There are still more than 4½ years to the life of the current Parliament. Hougang voters should not be deprived of having their elected representative in the House. Although the WP's five MPs in the adjacent Aljunied GRC can cover Hougang, that is not ideal. Let Hougang residents decide how they would like to hold the WP to account in light of the recent events.

PM Lee hinted at one consideration which he will take into account: "There are many other issues on the national agenda right now." Granted.

But will a by-election involving only about 25,000 voters be a massive distraction nationally?

Of course, some Hougang voters and Singaporeans generally may choose to view the by-election not just as a localised matter but a referendum on the PAP Government's performance since May 2011. This should not stand in the way of holding a by-election.

More importantly, the cardinal principle of representation is crucial: A stand-in MP is not the same as an MP for whom the majority had voted. Not calling a by-election would undermine the importance of representation in our maturing parliamentary democracy.

Our electoral system must endeavour to be inclusive and representative in tandem with the growing democratic aspirations. Doing so can only increase Singaporeans' civic participation and ownership of governmental processes.


Assuming a by-election is called, should the WP field in Hougang one of its two NCMPs?

It appears that an NCMP need not vacate his seat to contest in a by-election. Article 46(2A) of the Constitution provides that an NCMP shall vacate his seat "if he is subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament for any constituency". However, the law is not so clear on whether a vacated NCMP seat has to be filled.

Given the legal uncertainty, it may work better for the WP to field a candidate who is not in Parliament. Moreover, this would enable the WP, should it prove victorious in Hougang, to maintain its full complement of eight representatives in Parliament.

Eugene K B Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law, and a Nominated Member of Parliament.

More than Hougang seat at stake in Yaw affair
The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2012

BY REFUSING to come clean on allegations of his alleged extramarital affairs, Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong forced the hand of the Workers' Party (WP) leadership, which booted him out of the party last Wednesday. The move earned the WP plaudits from its supporters, and other Singaporeans, for its willingness to take a difficult decision against one of its rising stars for having, as WP chairman Sylvia Lim put it, 'broken the faith, trust and expectations of the party and people'. But that is not the end of the matter. The Hougang constituency seat hangs in the balance. Parliament has yet to take a decision on it, having given Mr Yaw till Friday to say if he intends to appeal against or challenge his expulsion. The clock is ticking down. But Mr Yaw's whereabouts are unknown, even to his party leaders. So Singaporeans are none the wiser about the facts and the truth behind this sorry saga. Rumour and innuendo dominate. It is an unnecessary distraction from the many pressing issues on the national agenda, and all the more regrettable because Singaporeans deserve better from the parties and politicians they elect to represent them in Parliament. And especially so in the era of today's so-called 'new normal' political landscape, which many hoped would be characterised by greater openness and transparency.

Singaporeans rightly expect their elected representatives, of all parties, to maintain high ethical standards in their personal and professional lives. There should be no double standards for anyone. That is the best way to preserve politics here as an honourable calling and help develop, as the WP itself espoused during the election hustings, a 'First World' Parliament.

Many might be inclined to be forgiving, but even so, the WP is likely to be dogged by questions about what it knew and when, and why it did not move sooner, investigate internally, and do more to press Mr Yaw for answers. Mr Yaw, for his part, still owes an explanation to the residents of Hougang who elected him. His reported absence from Singapore is disappointing and unbecoming. So too is his continued silence, especially when the technology exists for him to place his side of the story on record from wherever he might be if he was so inclined. Widely reported as this case has been, the end-game is still to come. While attention is focused on whether a by-election will be called, more than the Hougang constituency seat is at stake. Just how the parties on different sides of the political divide play their hand could have an impact on how Singaporeans - both present and future voters - come to regard the men and women who seek to represent them in Parliament.


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