Less than a year after making history by winning a GRC for the first time in Singapore elections, the Workers’ Party has been brought back to earth again with a series of disappointing performances by its MPs in parliament followed by its disastrous handling of the Yaw Shin Leong scandal, or ‘Yaw-gate’ for short.
A WP member for more than ten years and widely regarded as the protege of WP Chief Low Thia Kiang, Yaw bettered his mentor’s performance in Hougang by winning 64.8 percent of the votes in the May General Election last year.
Already holding the post of Treasurer in the Workers Party’s leadership council, Yaw was ranked number three in the party hierarchy after Secretary-General Low and Chairman Sylvia Lim.
His abrupt fall from grace over unanswered allegations of extra-marital affairs which culminated in his sacking from the party not only throws WP into internal turmoil, but deal a mortal blow to its fledgling ambitions on the national stage as well.
While Singaporeans are generally forgiving of minor flaws in the personal conduct of public figures, they are less than impressed by the way Yaw and WP handled the saga.
After refusing to comment on the rumors for weeks, WP leaders pulled a fast one by sacking Yaw thereby effectively shifting all the blame to him.
Yaw, on his part, did not do any favor for WP by disappearing out of sight and skipping town altogether, living Hougang residents who voted for him in limbo.
The entire fiasco leads to doubts being cast on Mr Low’s judgement as well as the selection process of the Workers Party since there were already rumors swirling around Yaw’s personal life and behavior before the General Election.
When Yaw was first chosen as the WP candidate to contest in Hougang, questions were already asked of his suitability given his controversial past of voting for the PAP in the 2006 General Election as well as ‘flings’ with a close party aide, but Mr Low chose to turn a blind eye to Yaw’s purported deficiencies in character.
Though Yaw did well to secure a victory in Hougang, the honeymoon period did not last long and he soon dragged the whole party into disrepute, threatening to undo years of good work by Low.
With six MPs before Yaw’s sacking and two NCMPs in parliament, the Workers Party is without a doubt the strongest opposition party in Singapore and some even considered it as a credible alternative to the PAP, but not any more as Yaw’s disappearing act and WP’s non-transparent handling of the crisis lead Singaporeans to ask if they can trust the party to manage national affairs when it cannot even keep its own house in order.
Conservative voters, especially the older generation, will cringe at the thought of the ‘hanky-panky’ business going on among party leaders to which WP has still yet to account properly to the public.
Based on its grassroots support and stature of Low, WP is likely to retain its stronghold of Hougang in a by-election. However it is unlikely to make any more headway on the national stage.
The Workers Party managed to siphon away votes from the PAP among the moderate voters mainly because many were disgruntled with the PAP’s policies.
As the PAP pour in resources to claw back lost ground in the next few years, the support for WP is likely to stagnate or even decline now after having its ‘dirty linen’ aired publicly in the media for all to see.
Being a Confucian Asian society, few Singaporeans can accept its leaders committing adultery, let alone with married women despite the brave front put up by hardcore WP supporters that the personal affairs of its MPs should be kept separate from their work.
WP is likely to face a fierce battle to retain Hougang and Aljunied in the next General Election, let alone add to its current tally of seats as ‘Yaw-gate’ will continue to cast a long shadow over it, at least in the next election.
Low Thia Kiang took a decade to revive WP’s flagging fortunes under its late leader Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam. It may take another generation of young leaders to undo the damage done to WP’s image and standing by ‘Yaw-gate’.