Opinion: S’pore Parties Won’t Let Politicians Get Away With Infidelity As Affairs Are A Betrayal Of Trust

This piece is part of MS Speaks, a segment in which MS News reporters share their honest views on current affairs and trending topics.

Commentary: Difficult For Politicians To Remain In Office After Infidelity Is Revealed

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui abruptly resigned from the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Parliament yesterday (17 July). On the same day, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong explained that they resigned due to infidelity.

While a section of people accepted why this called for their resignation, others weren’t so sure.

Adultery is not illegal in Singapore. However, it concerns a person’s morality, and people would expect a politician they elected to be of good moral standing.

The ‘Rules of Prudence’ letter PM Lee sent to all PAP MPs says as much.

From some perspectives, infidelity is a breach of trust, which is inexcusable for anyone in public office.

PM Lee set Rules of Prudence for all PAP MPs

Following the 2020 General Election, PM Lee released a letter setting out the Rules of Prudence for all PAP MPs.

The letter stated that,

MPs must always uphold the high standards of the Party and not have lifestyles or personal conduct which will embarrass themselves and the Party. Any slackening of standards, or show of arrogance or indifference, will erode confidence in the MP, and ultimately in the Party and Government.

“Lifestyles or personal conduct” here would, presumably, involve infidelity.

In 2012 and 2016 when then-MPs Michael Palmer and David Ong respectively resigned from their posts, PM Lee pointed out,

“[A]ll MPs and grassroots advisers must uphold high standards of propriety and personal conduct, especially when dealing with constituents, activists, and staff.”

Prior to the former PAP MPs, another incident of alleged extramarital affair involved Mr Yaw Shin Leong, the Workers’ Party (WP) MP for Hougang SMC.

Source: Dave Junia

That was the earliest instance of any party taking the decision to expel a member for infidelity.

A statement by WP back then in 2012 attributed Mr Yaw’s expulsion to him “breaking the faith, trust and expectations of the party and people”.

The wording is clear from both WP and PAP — infidelity is a breach of trust and expectations, especially if one does it behind their spouse’s back.

Beyond the public’s expectations, the party will also not wish to have their member engaging in scandalous affair that brings about negative publicity.

When IMDA banned Ashley Madison due to ‘family values’

Morality does not only apply to MPs, as a 2013 incident involving a dating website targeting married individuals, Ashley Madison, shows.

“It aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs and has declared that it will specifically target Singaporeans,” the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said in a 2013 statement regarding the website’s ban from Singapore IPs.

The statement also claimed that Ashley Madison disregarded Singapore’s “family values and public morality”.

Then-Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing took to social media to denounce the website.

Source: Chan Chun Sing on Facebook

He wrote, “Our marriage vows make it clear that marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. This includes staying faithful to one another.”

Though the incident was 10 years ago, there hasn’t been much evidence suggesting that the authorities’ stance has changed.

Private matters don’t stay private when you’re a public figure

Some will argue that the private matters of any politician should remain as just that — private.

Source: Twitter

This appears to form the thrust of the argument against any politician’s resignation due to an affair.

But that perspective changes when a private matter is no longer tolerable, as in this case.

PM Lee spoke about how he had talked to both Mr Tan and Ms Cheng regarding stopping the affair in Feb 2023.

However, he later found out that the illicit relationship continued and the two resigned thereafter.

Though one can say that PM Lee had known about the affair since 2020, he appeared to have taken some steps to resolve the matter internally.

Meanwhile, rumours of WP leadership knowing about Mr Perera and Ms Seah’s affair beforehand and allegedly doing nothing about it remain rife. At the time of writing, the party has yet to address the speculations.

Parties believe they must excommunicate the errant

Public scrutiny is inevitable when scandals like these erupt.

But the biggest collateral will be the families of those involved.

There appears to be no way for politicians to remain in their posts if their infidelity comes to light, and risk further damage and invasion of their families’ privacies.

People forgive, but they do not forget. Every politician who’s been caught having an affair has not resurfaced in the public eye since.

And for the parties, there seems to be no way to excuse an affair because of the moral component, as well as the breach of trust that has occurred.

No law was broken, sure — but integrity is important for any politician or aspiring one.

Featured image adapted from Baey Yam Keng 马炎庆 on Facebook and Facebook.

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