Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Politics of Affairs

When the issue of Yaw Shin Leong's affair first surfaced, I treated it the same way that I treat all gossipy tales of sordid affairs of the rich, famous or powerful. Stories like that deserve to be consigned to the thrash can. I don't really care if a celebrity has an affair. Nor do I care if a politician has an affair.

These indiscretions and their consequences have to be dealt with by the parties involved.In the case of a politician, my only concern is about the way in which he discharges his duties and functions. I want my MP to be an effective voice in Parliament. I want him to question the policy position of the executive. I want him to scrutinise legislation effectively. I want him to be mindful of the needs of the constituents and to represent these needs to the relevant persons and bodies so as to achieve the desired outcome.

I don't want my MP to be a passive observer in Parliament. I don't want him to be a 'Yes' man with nothing to contribute by way of policy scrutiny. I don't want him to rubber stamp every legislation that comes before Parliament.

If in the course of his position as an MP or Minister, a politician has an affair or he has had an affair in the past before coming into politics, none of this is of concern to me. I apply this principle equally to PAP MPs and Ministers as I would to opposition MPs. I remember hearing rumours about a certain PAP MP having an affair a long time ago. It was a rumour that had heavy circulation within the legal profession. I wanted no part of it as it was of no concern to me. There was understandably no news of the rumour in the media. But, the 135th press, living up to its low rating, sprung into action the minute there were rumours circulating about Yaw Shin Leong's affair.

As far as I am concerned, I would treat both issues in the same way. They are rumours and I don't really care about rumours. If there was truth in the allegations, again I don't care about the fact that a politician had an affair so long as he is able to discharge his functions. On that basis, there is no need for Yaw Shin Leong to resign or to be sacked by the party.

As we subscribe to the Westminister model of government, it might be useful to have reference to the constitutional conventions in UK with regard to personal misconduct. There is no specific convention relating to sexual misconduct by an individual MP. However, there is a convention pertaining to Ministerial Responsibility and there have been occasions involving ministerial resignation resulting from extra-marital affairs. Constitutional scholars in the UK are mostly of the view that a Minister's personal conduct involving sexual indiscretion does not trigger the convention of ministerial responsibility. The John Profumo scandal that led to the resignation of the minister involved an affair by the minister. However, the actual reason for which he resigned (and rightly so) was that he misled Parliament. It wasn't the affair. It was the lie.

However, there have been other ministers that have resigned as a result of being exposed as having an affair. These have been a result of public and Parliamenaty pressure rather than because of any Constitutional Convention. Quite apart from my own views that I do not expect my politicians to be saints, there is also no constitutional basis for insisting that a politician is answerable to the people for an affair that he had.

He has a lot of explaining to do to his wife and kids, of course. (And yes, kids. That is one good reason why I hate gossips about affairs. The more prevalent and public the gossip campaign, the more likely that the kids will come to know of it. It is not justifiable to expose young children to such 'news' of their parent. This is a matter that should be resolved within the family and if unresolvable, then I would expect the parties would end up in a divorce.)

Is the Worker's Party's move to expel YSL proper?

My initial view of the proper step to be taken by a political party is that an extra-marital affair should not be the basis on which the party member is expelled. I believe that the WP leaders must have initially taken that stance and concluded that it was not necessary for them to take any steps in relation to their MP? However, the very public witchhunt has pushed the hands of the Party to at first remove Yaw SL from his position in the Executive Committee and then to expell him.

The public explanation is that he has failed to give any adequate explanantion in relation to the alleged affair. This is one instance where the right to remain silent works completely against you. “No comment” is not the comment to make. The expectation that the party leaders would have had is that, at the very least, Yaw SL would give them an explanation. If it was indeed the case that Yaw SL did not explain himself to the WP, then the WP was entitled to take disciplinary action against him.

But, I wonder. Perhaps, it was a case of the WP leaders calculating that the fallout from the scandal could be too damaging for the party. Standing by a party member that had in fact committed adultery might sully the party's name. If more damning information were to emerge in public and it were to be clearly shown that YSL had an affair, then the political fallout for the WP could be too great. It is quite likely that sacking YSL was a form of damage control. It was probably an attempt to appear 'whiter than white.'

From a purely tactical standpoint, the WP move to sack YSL was probably the wisest thing that could have been done under the circumstances.

Did the Workers' Party let down its voters?

What can we say about the PAP? I didn't expect the rather opportunistic comments made by Mr Khaw Boon Wan. I kind of like the man. In a way, I didn't expect him to enter the fray. He claims that the WP may have misled the voters. PM Lee has gone further to say that WP has let the people down. How could that be? If a political party decided to climb the high moral ground, and demanded high standards from its MPs, it is something to be welcome.

The party has moved swiftly to assure Hougang residents. It has wasted no time in urging the PM to call for elections. It is imperative that a by-election be held so that the constitutents can have an MP representing them in Parliament. I remember the PAP conveniently avoided having by-elections in the past by an interpretation of the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act in such a way that by-elections were unnecessary in a GRC when one seat became vacant. Creative? yes. Responsible? no.

I have no issues with the fact that having made the decision to demand an explanation from their MP, WP leaders being unsatisfied with his non-response had eventually taken the step to expel him. The most responsible thing to then do is to call for elections asap.

Having said all of that, I still stand by my original position that an extra marital affair is a non-issue. I am concerned about whether my MP can do his job. I am not concerned about whether he got himself a blow job.

A Humourous footnote

A rather funny by-product of the Yaw saga is the letter of demand from Mr Shanmugam's lawyers to the author of the Yawning Bread blog. They effectively demanded that a certain comment made by a 3rd party be deleted from the blog. They went on to demand that their letter be published in full. Alex Au (the blogger behind Yawning Bread) complied with both requests. The net effect of that is that the scandalous comments thrown in by some 'scroobal' has become the subject of further rumour mongering.Sometimes, the wisest thing to do is just walk away.


Subra said...

Something is wrong with my paragraphing. I will try to fix it.

Subra said...

I am still having technical problems. The paragraphing is not appearing in the final posted version even though it is there in the draft.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhere in between on the matter of politicians & public servants and extra marital affairs.
Don't really care but at a personal level, I lose a lot of respect for someone who can't keep it in his/her pants.
At which point does sexual infidelity/misconduct affect your public standing & ability to discharge you duties?
It's a slippery slope...
Peter Lim? Berlusconi? Strauss-Kahn?

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