Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP) Chia Shi-Lu was criticised by some a few weeks ago for allegedly going on a walkabout amid the COVID-19 outbreak when social distancing and unessential trips out were discouraged.
While Chia was quick to defend his actions saying that he was out encouraging his constituents to wear masks, netizens were skeptical because of the looming general election that has yet to be officially postponed.
It is also important to note that he was not the only MP seen out and about in that time period. The very day after the circuit breaker was announced, 13 MPs including Zainal Sapari, Tan Wu Meng, Rahayu Mahzam, Melvin Yong, Louis Ng Kok Kwang, Henry Kwek Huan Chuan; Senior Ministers of State Sim Ann and Dr Maliki Osman; Deputy Speakers of Parliament Seah Kian Peng and Lim Biow Chuan; Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin; and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing were all out visiting markets, officers, estates, malls and residents—based on their respective Facebook posts.
An opinion piece in The Straits Times has said that “allowances can be made for MPs – who are the people’s elected representatives – to carry out their usual ground activities such as engaging residents and seeking their feedback, during the circuit breaker period.”
In isolation, this might well be arguably true. However, given the fact that the PAP dominated government has still not officially postponed general elections, many Singaporeans believe that the general elections might still be imminent.
This plus Singapore’s political landscape where opposition parties are considered to be on a back foot where outreach events are concerned, allowing only MPs to walk the ground creates a situation that can be potentially exploited to further disadvantage the opposition parties.
For an election to be properly fought, all candidates have to be able to conduct outreach events. While the COVID-19 outbreak is a global event that is not the PAP’s fault, allowing only the MPs to walk the ground will mean that they are given the additional advantage of interaction with voters that other candidates are not.
So, unless the general elections are indefinitely postponed until such time where we can all walk around freely, MPs should not be given this advantage.
The opinion piece goes on to say that MPs “can play a more effective role in the fight against this pandemic if they are on the ground – they can help address concerns, give assistance to vulnerable residents, and also provide important feedback to the Government on how its policies are faring”.
The bulk of the actual work of assisting vulnerable residents is largely administered by social workers and civil servants. The MP is but a figure head. The feedback for government policies would therefore be more valuable coming from the civil servants and social workers who see these vulnerable citizens regularly rather than the MP.
These are not normal times and interaction should be only on an essential basis. Seeing an MP walk around with an entourage is not an essential activity. If an MP really wants to be visible, he or she can send flyers, emails and letters where social distancing is better managed.
The opinion piece adds that MPs walking around “as elected representatives is a visible sign of leadership as well in these troubled times.”
Leadership means being able to walk the talk. If you are asking your constituents to stay home, you should do as you say and lead by example. Going out when others have to stay in is a case of one rule for me and one rule for you. That is not leadership. That is arrogance.
If the general elections are indefinitely postponed until the world has a better handle of COVID-19, all of this will become less of a issue. Why won’t the government just do that?