By Alvin Tan
Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency (SMC) Member of Parliament (MP) David Ong Kim Huat recently resigned due to a personal indiscretion which is not too dissimilar from the indiscretions of ex PAP MP Michael Palmer and ex-WP MP Yaw Shin Leong in 2012. In all these cases, there were allegations of infidelity.
This is an undesirable event that could have happened to any married person. However, in cases of infidelity, we are, rightly, not privy to what is happening in one’s personal life. He/she could be unhappy with the marriage. This unhappiness may be temporary or chronic. There could be so many reasons that have led to infidelity.
Let us assume that an MP is performing well at work in the following cases. If an MP is unmarried and has a girlfriend but changes girlfriend, should he have to resign? Does an MP have to resign if he has a messy divorce? What if an MP is homosexual?
Singapore has moved on from the days where males with long hair will be attended to last. Divorce is becoming increasingly common, with 20% of those who married in 1998 already divorced. In the USA and Asian cities such as Beijing, divorce rates hover around 40-50%.
It has been 4 years since the last time MPs from both the ruling and opposition parties resigned due to personal indiscretions. Former US president Bill Clinton had his well-publicised personal indiscretion as well. Current president Barrack Obama had his personal indiscretion as well, although it was more of a narcotic nature when he was a teenager. Even Einstein got the calculation in his PhD thesis wrong by almost 3 times. The American society has more or less overlooked such personal indiscretions.
Is the Singaporean society now better able to overlook such personal indiscretions from more prominent members of society compared to 4 years ago? More importantly, does the Singaporean society want to overlook such personal indiscretions from prominent members of society? Where do we draw the line in the sand?
Singaporeans may want their elected MPs to be of pristine standing—but how ‘pristine’ should MPs be?
Mr David Ong is contrite. He has already apologised and resigned. This is an unfortunate incident that could have happened to anyone, be it an opposition or PAP MP. If we were to put ourselves in his uncomfortable shoes, I think we should be more understanding and forgive him, if indeed you deem that his private family matters is yours to forgive in the first place.
Mr David Ong’s resignation has triggered a by-election in Bukit Batok SMC. What is at stake here is a mere one seat in parliament, in other words, there is nothing politically at stake for the PAP who already has 83 out of 89 seats in parliament.
David Ong previously won 73 percent of the vote and Bukit Batok has historically been a PAP ward, so if I were to hazard a guess, it is likely that the PAP will retain the seat in this by-election.
Since his resignation, the PAP has announced that MPs Desmond Lee and Ang Wei Neng from the nearby Jurong GRC will be stepping in to take over his duties. SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan and independent candidate Samir Salim Neji have both expressed interest in contesting in the by-election.
Dr Chee is a well-known opposition politician, however, unlike Chiam See Tong or Low Thia Kiang, he has never won a seat in parliament. Even with proper preparation, Dr Chee’s team won a third of the valid votes in his last outing. Will Dr Chee fare better this time around?
You may form your own opinions about what Dr Chee is advocating for but it is quite obvious that Dr Chee is a dogged and determined person. If Dr Chee does contest in this by-election, it will be interesting to see if he manages to improve his results this time around, or even win a seat, which would undoubtedly make for interesting parliamentary debates.
The Singaporean government has been heavily encouraging measures to encourage productivity, new startups and innovation—even at the expense of shorter-termed economic growth—so that Singapore can stay ahead of its competitors. I agree with these measures as most modern economic theories point to increasing productivity as the best way forward for long-term sustainable economic growth.
Singapore can and will continue to import best practices and products globally to help us to increase our productivity and be more innovative. However, if we look to do better than the best-established practices globally, we may have to significantly tweak these practices, change entrenched work culture, and even have novel innovations. When you have reached the point where there is nothing better or safer to adopt from the global marketplace, and your competitors are adopting the same thing as you are, one is forced to depart from the old ways, however slightly or significantly, if one wants to stay ahead.
Interestingly, I don’t think true innovation can be taught. No one could have taught Steve Jobs how to create Apple, Ma Yun how to create Taobao, Thomas Edison how to create the light bulb or Sim Wong Hoo how to create Creative Technology. However, we can certainly provide a conducive environment and lay the foundation.
The stories of the above people have been well documented. If we were to read their stories, we will understand that making mistakes is part of their success. The failure rate for new startups is high, almost as high as 80% according to some research. Inventing new products involve lots of trial and error. Any inventor or researcher understands that.
So, where do you draw the line in the sand? I leave you to ponder over that.