SINGAPORE, Sept 1 — Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan yesterday accused the People's Action Party (PAP) of "petty" and "bad politics" during July's General Election, referring to how the incumbent had complained to the authorities about WP's placement of posters in Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC).
Tan also took issue with how the PAP team had planted its flags in front of WP’s banners in Hougang.
His comments sparked an exchange with PAP MP Murali Pillai who questioned if Tan, the MP for Hougang SMC, felt that the ruling party was using its “power of incumbency” against opponents in an unfair way.
The exchange took place during the first day of parliamentary debates yesterday where MPs across the aisle debated the President’s Address.
In his speech, Tan referred to President Halimah Yacob’s point on politics evolving in Singapore and raised his experience during the recent General Election in July.
“I myself had some experience with petty and bad politics in this election, which makes me wonder whether the ruling party has gone backwards in time in the way its campaign has been conducted in Hougang,” Tan said.
He had retained the WP stronghold after winning 61.19 per cent of the vote against PAP’s Lee Hong Chuang.
Tan, who took over from WP’s Png Eng Huat in Hougang, said that two complaints were made to the Elections Department (ELD) during the campaigning period.
The first complaint involved 13 allegations of WP’s election posters being below the requisite 2.2m height, which Tan said left his volunteers “puzzled” because they had taken care to follow ELD’s regulations.
A second complaint with similar allegations came two days later despite his volunteers rectifying the issue, Tan said.
A resident had also informed him that representatives from PAP were seen pulling WP's posters to fall below its orginal height.
Apart from these, the PAP team had planted the party’s flags in front of WP’s banners in Hougang SMC, “blocking a clean sighting of the contents” of his banners, and PAP planted many flags around coffee shops in the estate.
He questioned if PAP’s actions in Hougang meant that WP could do likewise in constituencies where PAP was incumbent.
“I should think not, lest a tit-for-tat culture manifests itself and creates a divisive political culture that only hurts Singaporeans,” Tan said.
His speech prompted Murali, MP for Bukit Batok SMC, to ask if Tan would accept that ELD had dealt with his complaints in “an even-handed way”. Mr Murali also asked Tan to explain his basis for suggesting that PAP was using its power of incumbency against opponents in an unfair way.
In response, Tan repeated his account of the events. Pointing specifically to the issue of PAP flags around Hougang coffee shops, he said this was something that he would never have envisaged when he was competing against PAP in Fengshan SMC.
Tan had lost to PAP’s Cheryl Chan in Fengshan SMC in the 2015 General Election.
“My point is that... if this is going to be a precedent set by the PAP... then it raises the question of where do you want to draw the line with this kind of behaviour, because certainly for me, we have to move beyond this,” Tan said.
Upon prompting by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin to answer Murali’s question directly, Dennis Tan said that ELD had been even-handed in handling complaints.
Claiming that Dennis Tan had failed to address his question, Murali rose to repeat his question and Dennis Tan then said: “I’m not suggesting the PAP is using its power of incumbency. But I have raised various incidents that have happened as a result of the actions of certain people.
“My point really is that these are all very petty and bad politics and we shouldn't encourage it.”
What ELD says
In response to media queries on the parliamentary debate, ELD said later on Monday that it received more than 220 feedback and complaints from members of the public as well as political parties relating to posters and banners put up by candidates and political parties for the General Election.
The breaches included posters and banners being within 50m of a polling station, not in possession of the Returning Officer’s stamp and below the 2.2m height requirement, which could obstruct the line of sight for motorists.
Regardless of political party, when such complaints are filed, ELD would ask the election agent to rectify the posters in breach of the rules within three hours.
“If this is done, no further action will be taken. In most cases, rectifications were done within the three-hour timeframe and no further action was taken,” it said. “This was also the case for the complaints relating to Mr Dennis Tan’s posters.”
However, ELD pointed out that Dennis Tan's account that his posters were pulled down from the original height is “a serious allegation” and it has not received any such report.
“Mr (Dennis) Tan should file a report with ELD so that this can be investigated.” — TODAY