Chan Jia Hui
Let us wind the clock back to General Elections 2006. When James Gomez, a minority candidate, for Workers’ Party (WP) had claimed that he submitted his minority candidate forms but video footage showed that he had not, he was to become the focal point of the hustings.
Senior members of the PAP leadership were to concentrate their attacks on Gomez, questioning his integrity and character, so much so that WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang had refuted that the PAP made baseless allegations.
WP finished with 43.91% of the votes, the best losing margin by the opposition that was sufficient to send Sylvia Lim into parliament as a Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP). A statement from the PAP branch secretary at Aljunied, Tan Bee Lan, implied that the WP had gained from ‘canvassing’ for sympathy over Gomez. Tan’s contention can be easily rebutted; what happened to Gomez took two hands to clap. Gomez made a mistake, but the PAP leadership had a choice on whether to move on immediately or keep harping on the issue. Bottomline was, if anything, the focus on Gomez had indeed won WP sympathy votes.
Fast-forward 6 years later, we are seeing the repeat of Gomez-gate in WP’s candidate for Hougang, Png Eng Huat. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean initially questioned why WP did not send Png into Parliament as an NCMP due to the party’s results in East Coast GRC where Png originally contested, which was among the top three losing results in terms of percentage.
Png had replied that he was against the NCMP scheme, and had taken his “name out of the ballot”. Leaked minutes of the Central Executive Council (CEC) meeting had revealed that Png’s name was in the ballot and that he had received one vote.
It was subsequently clarified by Png and Low that what the former meant by taking his “name out of the ballot” was in reference to the process, not the paper. Png’s opposition to the NCMP scheme and the fact that he did not want to be considered for the post was made known to Low, and other CEC members. This was subsequently corroborated by Eric Tan, a former CEC member who had quitted the party, in a statement to Today.
The party still included Png’s name into the ballot paper as it believed that “personal preferences” have to be set aside and that the CEC is the one responsible for selecting the NCMP.
However, it appeared that Teo remained unconvinced. He said: “The last few days – especially events over the last two days – it gives me pause because it raises two issues … of honesty, and being upfront and honest with the voters here in Hougang.”
He noted that Mr Png could only be “telling the truth” on one occasion. “I think what he said (on Monday) and what he said (yesterday) contradict each other,” Teo added.
A certain Goh Chok Tong finally relented after the endless PAP barrage on James Gomez in 2006 and announced “Let’s move on”, but it was already too late by then.
Yet, it appears Teo still has a fixation on the issue. In truth, it is just a minor matter attributed to different ways in interpreting contexts. What Png meant by the statement was what he had personally done,”to take himself out of the ballot”. This is the individual context of Png’s statement. What else does Teo expect Png to say? That he “did not rule himself out of the ballot”? If Png said that, he is also lying from the individual context, because this is inconsistent with his stand against the NCMP scheme, and his actions in telling the CEC members he did not want to be considered for the NCMP position.
Thus, if Png said he did “not rule himself out of the ballot”, maybe, the leak this time round will be different, it could be about Png indeed telling some of the party CEC members that he did not wish to be considered for the NCMP post. Either way, he is ‘lying’.
However, the party had a guiding principle or standard operating procedure to include all names in the ballot. This is the organisational context. It is possible that individual context is not congruent with organisational context. The fact that Png’s name was included is a form of formality.
In truth, this incident involving Png could be found in our everyday lives. During my school days, I participated in two extra-curricular activities. One was an organisation that was in the midst of selecting its office holders and the other was a sports club. Because I had limited time, I had no intentions to become an office holder in the first organisation. Therefore, I told the teacher-in-charge and the retiring office holders that I had no wish to be considered for any office holder post. I told other members in the organisation and my friends that “I had taken my name out of the selection process”. However, one morning, I was notified of an interview by a panel of selectors for one of the office holder positions. Confused, I appeared before the panel and asked why I was scheduled for the interview. They told me it was an organisational protocol/operating procedure to interview all members for the office-holder positions, and that there will be no exceptions to the rule, even if I made known my intentions. Therefore, I participated in the interview and again said I had no intention to be an office holder, and for added insurance, I guaranteed I will resign on the spot if made an office holder. I got my way and remained an ordinary member.
This is the simplest illustration of differences in individual and organisational-based contexts when it comes to certain processes. I am sure, Teo with his high level of intellect, will be able to understand this.
The question is whether he wants to continue harping on the issue. What he can glean from George Yeo’s Aljunied experience is the inability to let go of such trifle issues can lead to sympathy votes in favour of the opposition and against the PAP.
You also have to factor in the differences in the current context of Hougang, and that of Aljunied 6 years ago. George was a relatively popularly figure, a heavyweight, and in a ward where the PAP is an incumbent. Now, Teo is trying the same thing as what PAP did six years ago in Hougang, in a ward where the opposition is the incumbent, and one that is an opposition stronghold. He risks undermining Desmond’s campaign, if he continues harping on this issue, because like what happened in Aljunied, sympathy votes will flow towards Png.
Goh had it in him to say “Let’s move on”. Will Teo do the same, and if he does, will it be too late by then?
Photo courtesy of Alvin Ho, Yahoo! Singapore.