The Ides of July and the Embarrassing State of Singapore Politics Right Now
Top Image: S Iswaran / Facebook

What a month it has been for Singapore politics.

Singaporean ears typically tune out the nitty gritty technicals of political affairs. Occasionally, a yawn breaks out mid-discussion of Singapore politics. The nuts and bolts of a new Parliamentary bill do not make for exciting water cooler conversation.

The same cannot be said for June and July this year because Parliament seems to have taken a page out of the latest Shonda Rhimes political thriller. Stories of alleged political scandals are churning out from 1 Parliament Place and into the bewildered eyes and ears of Singaporeans. 

Singaporeans have questioned why a new scandalous story seems to surface every other week these days. Controversy’s arm seems to find a way to bring different issues to light—its reach bipartisan.  

Across the aisle from the incumbent, Opposition Member of Parliament Mr Leon Perera and fellow Workers’ Party Member Ms Nicole Seah were seemingly caught on video with an “inappropriate exchange”. 

What exchange, exactly? In the video, two outstretched arms navigate the stems of two fully-filled wine glasses. The man, allegedly Mr Perera, reaches out to a woman seated opposite, allegedly Ms Seah. The man’s idle fingers tenderly caress the woman’s hands. 

Both Mr Leon Perera and Ms Nicole Seah are married. Not to each other, however.

It only took a few hours before the next scandal. This time, there are no allegations. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confirmed that two of his People’s Action Party (PAP) members continued their extramarital affair despite being told to knock it off back in February. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin and Tampines GRC Member of Parliament Cheng Li Hui resigned today for falling short of the “high standard of propriety and personal conduct” expected of PAP members. 

Our conversations over the dinner table might just have gotten more vibrant. However, Singaporeans, having taken a peek into the private lives of our politicians, are ultimately at a losing end from what has transpired in Singapore politics over the last few months. 

The Black and White Optics of Ridout Road Saga 

Controversy first took a hard turn off Holland Road and into the housing estates at Ridout. Opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam accused Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan of a possible conflict of interest. 

Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan are currently leasing black-and-white bungalows from the Singapore Land Authority, a statutory board Minister Shanmugam oversees. Mr Jeyaretnam claimed a possible conflict of interest could have occurred from these transactions. 

Two separate reviews, one from the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the other by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, have found no wrongdoing by the two ministers. While the ministers might have been cleared of corruption, the optics are simply bad. Especially in Singapore politics.

Ministers shelling out large amounts of their personal money for renovations while Singaporeans complain about rising prices furthers the ideological distance between the common Singaporean and the elite. 

There’s nothing wrong with spending your hard-earned money on things, even if it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars on upkeep. It wouldn’t even be an issue that needed to be discussed in Parliament if Mr Jeyaretnam hadn’t gone busting in, guns in hand, only to find they’ve turned to sausages

Image: Google Maps Screengrab

What The Hot Mic Heard

The conversation about Ridout Road had just settled into a distant quiet when a private comment from former Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin broke the silence again. 

Fucking populist,” Mr Tan muttered to himself in a Parliamentary sitting in April. Knowing what we know now, that’s kinda rich coming from him.  

Mr Tan had privately responded to Member of Parliament Jamus Lim’s speech. The speech was entitled ‘Hard Living in Singapore’—a call for the government to do more for the vulnerable.

Discrediting proposals to increase help to poor Singaporeans as ‘populist’, ironically, stoked more populist sentiment than Assoc Professor Lim’s proposal. The incumbent seemed too quick to discredit the proposal; Singaporeans found themselves opposing Mr Tan’s comment and his stance.

His comment aside, Singaporeans also questioned the impartiality of the former Speaker of Parliament in Singapore politics. The public also raised questions about whether the Speaker of Parliament should be strictly non-partisan. 

While Mr Tan has since resigned from his role, questions will be asked over whether previous Parliamentary debates have been adjudicated with an impartial eye. He was, after all, found to have been in an improper relationship with an MP as far back as after the 2020 General Election, when PM Lee first found out about it. 

More importantly, we should also ask what emboldened the former Speaker to make such a comment in the first place. 

Image: Tan Chuan Jin / Facebook

The CPIB Probe 

Minister for Transport S Iswaran, along with property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, was arrested as part of a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) probe. Details of the probe have been withheld because of ongoing investigations. The results of the investigation have yet to be released. 

However, a mere CPIB probe stands to tarnish the reputation of the incumbent, which prides itself on incorruptibility. Singaporeans frequently quip about “ownself check ownself” and being “whiter than white”. 

The CPIB probe might clear the Minister of wrongdoing. Yet, the tiniest of stains on the whitest of sheets leave an indelible mark that will be remembered by Singaporeans—a high political cost.

POFMA Reaches Mr Jeyaretnam 

The Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (POFMA) allows authorities to issue correction directions to fake news or false information. The Act intends to counter online falsehoods. 

Mr Jeyaretnam supported his allegations with the claim that he had not been issued a directive to take them down. The perverse logic is this: His allegations contained some kernel of truth because he had not been POFMA-ed. 

He tempted fate, and fate replied. Along with Facebook user Thamil Selvan and online publication Jom, Mr Jeyaretnam was issued a POFMA order over the weekend. His article had “falsely stated that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) gave the contract to renovate 26 Ridout Road and/or 31 Ridout Road to home interior and renovation company Livspace”. 

He also falsely claimed that the contract was issued because the Chief Executive Officer of Livspace was Minister Shanmugam’s son. 

In doing so, he only created more confusion for Singaporeans. Perhaps his unfounded allegations only justified the need for POFMA’s expansiveness. 

Image: Kenneth Jeyaretnam / Facebook


Just this morning, a video allegedly showing an ‘inappropriate exchange’ between senior Workers’ Party members was circulated online.

Right as the news about them broke out, Speaker of Parliament Mr Tan and MP Cheng Li Hui announced their resignations. The initial statements were unclear. After all, why had two different MPs announced their resignation at the same time?

As the Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party, PM Lee then confirmed that the two had an “inappropriate relationship”—one that continued even after they were counselled. 

There was little choice but for both of them to resign. Flashbacks of David Ong and Michael Palmer (also a former Speaker of Parliament!) ensue. 

Spicy news, yes, but ultimately, it’s the people that lose. The residents of their divisions will have to adjust to new overseers. Instability within the government will have a butterfly effect on an already turbulent economy. 

It remains to be seen how the Workers’ Party will react, having found themselves in a similar situation if the alleged video proves true. Now that it’s the Workers’ Party’s move, there could be more drama unfolding soon in Singapore politics.

Surely, the buck has to stop somewhere. As much as we might like the taste of popcorn, eating too much of it holds stomach-churning consequences. And the ides of July only just passed; we have the rest of the month to go.

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