“A shrewd political move.”
That was the response by Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan on the Workers’ Party’s (WP) call for a by-election at Hougang SMC.
“WP has taken, boldly, the moral high ground,” he said of the party expelling Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong who served in the party leadership for close to ten years.
“The party will reap dividends from this first-mover advantage action – in the short-term and in the long-term. They are setting high standards for themselves, and the move will go down well with the ground, and with Hougang voters,” added Tan, who is an assistant law professor at Singapore Management University.
Under the Constitution, once an elected Member of Parliament ceases to be a member of, or is expelled or resigned from the political party for which he stood in an election, the seat shall become vacant.
Media consultant P N Balji called this a “big blow’ for the party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang in particular. “Yaw was his political prodigy, having been with Mr Low for 11 years.”
“It also calls into question how the Workers' Party picks its members and grooms them for political contest. Yaw's "personal discretion" does not seem to have been a one-off affair. A married China woman had spoken publicly of her affair with him.”
But he was quick to highlight WP’s immediate task: to identify a replacement and “take the party out of this crisis quickly”.
Speaking on the next by-election, Balji said that the focus of the next by-election will most probably be revolve around “issues of character” and banking on how WP handles this crisis. He added, “Although it did finally take the decisive step of sacking Yaw, its long silence on Yaw will come under scrutiny during the hustings.”
The Prime Minister will now have to advise President Tony Tan to issue a writ for a by-election in Hougang SMC.
Tan speculates that Desmond Choo, who was pitted against WP in the previous May 2011 election, will be the front-runner to contest. He points out that Choo is the grassroots organisation's adviser there.
“He would have familiarity with issues in Hougang and is known to voters there.”
Tan added that, “The PAP is likely to be worse-off if it sends another candidate other than Choo.”
He admits that it will be an “uphill battle” for the PAP to win back Hougang SMC. “Hougang has been a WP stronghold since 1991…We shouldn’t be surprised if the WP wins Hougang with a larger majority in the by-election.”
Goh Meng Seng, former secretary-general of the National Solidarity Party also expects WP to win the by-election.
“I hope this by-election will not be a multi-cornered fight and other opposition parties won’t come in because this will affect the chances of the opposition holding onto the Hougang SMC seat,” he said.
Regina Chua, 34, an auditor who has lived in Hougang SMC for six years, said, “The party did well to sack him. It was a brave move and it shows they are willing to choose morals over power.”
She added, “Regardless of who stands in the by-election, I will still pick the WP because it has done a good job for residents here.”
Another resident of 15 years, Desmond Chin, 31, systems engineer said: “To me, it is a long overdue move. But at least they have done it now. By sacking Yaw, the WP is showing Singapore that it expects its MPs to not just be passionate about serving constituents but also be morally upright. “
But he said he will only decide who to vote for in the by-election after the candidates from both sides have been confirmed.
Pamy Tan, a research writer, thinks that this shows well on WP in “preserving a good image”. However, she remains skeptical if it will truly benefit the residents in the case of a by-election.
But the scrutiny is undoubtedly on WP and their upcoming performance. Tan said that she will choose where to place her vote carefully in the upcoming election “based on what WP says in rallies. I’d hear what they have to say and based on my assessment, I’d see who I’d vote for”.
The last elections saw People’s Action Party candidate Desmond Choo contest the single-seat ward against Yaw. At press time, Choo could not be reached for comment on whether he will contest in a by-election.
However, his supporters are already geared up to vote him in.
Facebook user Kwek Kah Heong posted on Choo’s wall: “Get ready for another fight!”
Another user Chong Yao Yang encouraged Choo to contest in this by-election, saying, “Don't Worry this time round if you contest in Hougang’s by-Election, you will win because Yaw Shin Leong have been sacked from the Workers’ Party.”
Reporting by Lin Wenjian Melissa Aw & Deborah Choo