“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.
Party chairman Sylvia Lim said on Wednesday that Yaw was expelled "because he has not addressed allegations” in his private life.
Yaw was alleged to have had an extra-marital affair with a married female opposition party member.
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.
-- Additional reporting by Lin Wenjian and Melissa Aw