Deputy Prime Minister and 2nd Assistant Secretary General of the People’s Action Party (PAP), Tharman Shanmugaratnam, has acknowledged that his party members have engaged in “gutter politics”.
While not admitting to this directly, Mr Tharman nonetheless tacitly agreed with the description by a member of the audience at the inaugural Nanyang Technological University Majulah Lecture on Wednesday.
Kenneth Lin, the member of the audience, had asked the DPM for his views on the “gutter politics” tactics employed by his party during elections, such as during the Bukit Batok by-election last year.
The PAP’s candidate, Murali Pillai, had gone up against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief, Chee Soon Juan, after the single-member seat was vacated by the PAP’s David Ong for personal indiscretions.
The PAP’s campaign was heavily criticised by the public for its dirty tactics, personal attacks and character assassination of Dr Chee by senior members of the PAP such as Ministers Grace Fu and Halimah Yacob (now the unelected president).
There was even a call for the PAP to stop the way it was conducting its campaign.
“We are deeply saddened at the manner in which the campaign is run, having deteriorated to a level that undermines our Singaporean values,” a group of Singaporeans wrote in a public statement. “It is indeed a sad state of affairs when people who have been entrusted with positions of power and leadership perpetuate such unbecoming behaviour.”
Questions were raised at the time about Mr Tharman’s clout in the PAP, after he had promised the SDP a “clean” fight on Nomination Day. His promise, however, seemed to have been disregarded by his colleagues.
“I don’t agree with every tactic of every one of my colleagues,” the DPM said on Wednesday at NTU. “ I don’t agree with every tactic but every political party and political campaigns have a range of tactics.”
Mr Tharman then went on to defend his party, saying that “there’s something that defines the PAP.”
“It’s the insistence on character, honesty, and being true to Singaporeans,” he said. “Now I’m not saying this to besmirch anyone, but that trait of the PAP shows up almost all the time. And sometimes the PAP falls short, and action is to be taken on individuals. So just bear in mind that that was one of the colours of the PAP, that emphasis on character, and it shows up in a variety of ways.”
It is a curious defence from one such as Mr Tharman, a highly regarded minister both here in Singapore and elsewhere in the world.
Mr Tharman claims that the thing that “defines the PAP” is this thing called “character”, and that this “character… shows up in a variety of ways.”
Indeed, this character shows up every so often with the PAP – especially during election time – where the party and its senior leaders descend to the gutter in their bid to win votes.
But if this “character” which Mr Tharman speaks of is one of integrity and honesty and fairness, then surely he must know that the PAP does not possess such a character, for if it does it would not be engaging in gutter politics in the first place – a fact which Mr Tharman seemed to acknowledge in his response to the question at NTU.
Voters have seen how PAP’s most senior leaders, such as Vivian Balakrishnan, Grace Fu, Halimah Yacob, and even Lee Hsien Loong himself, have all lowered themselves into the sewer in casting aspersions on their political opponents during the heat of an election campaign, every election – without exception, whipping up emotional reactions from voters.
They have also made unsubstantiated allegations during election time which to this day they have not provided proof for.
And because these attacks come from these very senior leaders in the party, it is disingenuous for Mr Tharman to now say he “[does not] agree with every tactic of every one of my colleagues.”
As 2nd Assistant Secretary General, he was privy to the campaign strategy of his party. Did he voice out his disapproval then?
He surely must have some clout within the party to put a stop to such unacceptable behaviour, especially when it is he himself who had promised, in the case of the Bukit Batok by-election, a clean and gentlemanly contest.
Perhaps Mr Tharman should explain why, apparently, his feelings or views on this have been disregarded by his party in favour of a dirty campaign.
So, when Mr Tharman speaks of the “character” of the PAP, one can only say it is a questionable thing, this “character” of the PAP.
This character is one which resorts to dirty campaigns, character assassination, personal attacks, taking cheap shots, moving the goal posts, and throwing money at the people during elections, all in a bid to win absolute power.
While Mr Tharman defends his party, as well he should (being a party leader and all), he should also be honest and acknowledge that this “failure” of his party which he spoke of is not something which is “by the way”, but something insidious, repetitive, and rotten, for it keeps happening time after time, election after election.
It is all good to disagree with your party colleagues on these unacceptable tactics, but for someone of his standing, Mr Tharman should do more than say he disagrees with his colleagues.
For when the next election comes along and his party colleagues again throw mud at others, what is he going to do?
Anyone of character would stand up and tell his colleagues to stop it, wouldn’t he?
Mr Tharman’s remarks suggest that those above him had condoned and approved the dirty smear tactics of the PAP, given that he himself is 2nd Assistant Secretary General of the party and would have been able to stop such things if those above him had supported his views.
Apparently, they did not.