Upholding standards vs showing compassion – what would you do?  

02/08/2023

Political leaders often face the following quandary when a scandal strikes. Do they take a compassionate approach and risk being seen as condoning a wrong, or should they take a page out of Killing Eve, acting swiftly and ruthlessly to cull the liability as Villanelle would?  

Of course, it depends on the nature of the problem. An embarrassing remark caught on the hot mic is unprofessional but not necessarily political suicide. Meanwhile, corruption in any shape or form will never be tolerated as long as PAP is at the helm.  

But what about moral failings?  

While frowned upon in society, an extramarital affair is not illegal, which makes appropriating blame for such personal indiscretions particularly tricky. Besides, behind every infidelity hides a story of human fragility. Even when an affair is well and truly over, it leaves a trail of emotional carnage. One where spouses and children are left bewildered and hurt, becoming nothing more than collateral damage. 

But if we tarry to throw that stone and examine the – or any – extramarital affair, it won’t be lost on any one of us that it signals a family in crisis. It is in recognition of this that the PAP feels compelled to take a more sensitive approach when dealing with MPs caught up in romantic entanglements, especially when children are involved. 

Speaking to the media at a press conference on Monday (July 17) to address the resignations of Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and MP Cheng Li Hui, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong did not attempt to conceal the fact that he knew of their affair awhile back.  

“I learnt of this sometime after the last General Election in 2020, I do not know when it began, but they were spoken to and counselled. Unfortunately, the matter did not close, and it came to the hard conversation in February this year.” 

Addressing the issue again in Parliament (August 2), PM Lee was palpably introspective, expressing regret that he should have forced the issue earlier.  

“I had hoped to give them a softer exit and save them and their families the pain and embarrassment they are suffering now. I placed much weight on protecting their families … perhaps too much.” 

Hindsight is always 20/20. But we acknowledge that there is no single blanket solution as circumstances differ. The cost may outweigh the benefit with the eventual decision or action. And in this case, the political cost has seemingly come from placing too much trust that people would do the right thing for their families, and too much care about what the impact would do on innocent parties.  

PAP will continue to maintain high standards

While the matter has come to a close, lingering doubts remain. For a start, will this be a slippery slope? And will the PAP continue to maintain the high standards it preaches? 

The answer is a definite yes because conducting ourselves with integrity and honesty is not just a brand. It is part of our belief system. However, while expulsion from the Party has long been the de rigueur course of action, it is also a last resort.  

Instead, the Party will always investigate credible rumours. And if they are verified, we will ask the errant MP to stop what they are doing and make amends, said PM Lee.  

“If the behaviour is not outrageous or scandalous, to begin with, and the MP heeds the advice, then we will not punish them severely and automatically or immediately kick them out.” 

In the end, it was regrettable that the Speaker and the MP had to go, not only because they had an affair per se, but that they were unwilling to see their faults and recalcitrant about ending things. Coincidentally, the Workers Party (WP) leadership have adopted a similar approach in dealing with their crisis. According to WP Secretary-General Mr Pritam Singh, Mr Perera and Ms Seah had to resign because they breached requirements which required them to be “frank and honest”.   

Perhaps the reality is – MPs are fallible like everybody else. Therefore, how we handle matters will be infinitely more important than adding more layers of scrutiny when selecting candidates. One thing is clear from this entire episode. The empathy and sensitivity PM Lee has shown is a clear signal that the PAP leadership is determined to uphold values and be a party that represents both ambition and compassion.   

Photo Source: MCI via YouTube