Despite concerns over Gomez saga, other issues important too

  • AseanPlus News
  • Friday, 05 May 2006

WHY is the People’s Action Party still harping on the James Gomez issue when Opposition parties are raising matters of more concern to voters, like lift upgrading and the cost of living? “One hand clapping” is how one observer describes it. 

In conversations, on the Internet, via SMSes and e-mail, it’s mostly the same sentiment: People are tired of the amount of attention being given to what seems to them a minor issue. They want to move on. 

Why doesn’t the PAP move on? 

Taking PAP statements at face value, the reason can be summed up in one word: integrity. As Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said two days ago, the integrity of the Workers’ Party (WP) is at stake if it fields a man like Gomez. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a more lofty take, although still from the same integrity angle. He was not concerned about Gomez, or the WP, or even whether the PAP won or lost in Aljunied GRC, he said yesterday.  

For him, what’s at stake is the integrity of the Singapore system of government. If anyone “plays punk with it,” he can expect the government to “play punk” with him. 

He declared at a lunchtime rally: ‘It was not an honest administrative mistake. Gomez was dishonest. He planned this dastardly trick to discredit the Elections Department and the government, and that’s why we can’t just move on.’ 

The WP has denied that Gomez tried to discredit the Elections Department, and asserted that there are no bad eggs in the party. Gomez, on his part, has apologised, “if he caused distress or confusion” to Elections Department staff. 

Beyond that, the party has refused to say more, calculating that silence is a better strategy than further comment. It has refused to rise to the bait set by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s calling Gomez a liar. It has also refused to respond to PAP calls to drop Gomez from its slate, knowing that doing so amounts to declaring Gomez guilty as charged by the PAP. 

Goh Meng Seng, another member of the WP slate for Aljunied GRC, even declared that one of the lessons he learnt from the Singapore Armed Forces is “leave no man behind.” 

What is the neutral observer to make of the situation? With hard facts hard to come by – a good lawyer could make out a case that the footage from the Elections Department is not conclusive proof of malicious intent – it is no surprise that the average Singaporean is tiring of the saga.  

While I have no doubt the PAP is dead serious about protecting the integrity of the Singapore system and sees the Gomez saga in those terms, there might also be tactical and strategic reasons why it is pursuing the issue so doggedly.  

Tactically, highlighting an incident that casts doubt on Gomez’s integrity yanks back into the PAP fold some of those among conservative heartlanders who might have been swerving to the WP side after being charmed by the very reasonableness of the WP candidates. 

Since Nomination Day there has been a certain excitement in the air caused by the emergence of an unprecedented number of well-educated and presentable candidates in the Opposition camp. 

For voters, it’s a novelty. For the ruling party however, it obviously is a source of worry. Hence, any chance to restore sobriety among voters is welcome. 

Strategically, the anti-Gomez campaign reminds Singaporeans of the realpolitik involved in joining the Opposition. It is one big sign that says: “Do not enter if you cannot take the heat.”  

For it is not only Gomez who is in the firing line; Sylvia Lim, the 40-year-old law lecturer making her debut in this election, is smack in the middle, too. 

What is likely to be the net effect of the Gomez saga on the vote tomorrow? 

The intensity of the PAP attacks has irked many. However, I have yet to come across people who take issue with the message itself.  

No one, whether from within the WP or outside, has offered any substantive counter to the integrity arguments as spelled out by Wong and Lee. 

Overall, I would say that the net effect is at least a partial return to the status quo that prevailed before Nomination Day on April 27. 

The pendulum might have swung in the direction of the WP as the latter’s campaign got under way, but the Gomez video released by the Elections Department has given pause to some voters. 

Gomez does seem to me to have been up to some mischief at the Elections Department; his WP leaders may have reprimanded him for this in private but chosen to keep mum in public in the interests of party unity. 

For the PAP, however, hammering away at the same points won’t bring it any more gains.  

A better approach now is to turn its attention to the issues that residents are clamouring to know more about. Will their flats be upgraded? Will they get lifts that stop on every floor? Will their precincts get new kindergartens, or hospitals, or lorry parks? The last proved an important issue in Gombak in 1997. 

There are also more longer-term concerns on voters’ minds. Will they be elbowed out of low-cost hospital wards if means testing is introduced? Will education fees or medical charges go up? 

Instead of merely promising residents this, that and the other at the micro level, PAP candidates should also help explain macro matters like these: How does a national healthcare system work? Where can a government get money to fund a good national healthcare system, or a good education system?  

These are important policy issues that the average citizen should have at least some appreciation of, even if finding solutions can be left to the ministers and policymakers. – The Straits Times / Asia News Network  

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