Ex-PAP MP David Ong shielded from scrutiny by social media attention & unique political system
In the first 48 hours of the scandal, Ong gave a three-sentence text and disappeared.
Singapore aims to be a SMART nation, as it takes full advantages of technology and IT to improve our lives.
But a resignation of a politician and public figure via Facebook and a text message must be a world’s first.
Here are the facts:
We learnt about ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) MP David Ong’s resignation from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook on Saturday, just after 4pm.
In response to media queries, Ong seemed to have rejected their calls and had only texted the media. In fact, Ong told Shin Min Daily News (Shin Min) on Sunday (March 13) that he will only reply to them via email.
The lady involved — grassroots leader Wendy Lim — has not even spoken to the media at all to confirm or deny speculations she was the woman involved.
There are two mainstream media interviews on the issue so far — one with DPM Tharman and his Jurong GRC Member of Parliaments (MPs), and the second, with Party Whip and minister, Chan Chun Sing. None spoke in detail about the reasons for Ong’s resignation.
And these are the things the media and social media have discovered within 24 hours.
Yet, we know that Ong resigned because he had very likely committed adultery.
We know that the affair lasted for six months.
We know who the lady was, her occupation, how many children she has.
We know that it was her husband who complained to PAP. We even know that her husband has left Singapore on Saturday morning (2.29am) — thanks Shin Min!
One must pause to absorb how surreal this whole political situation currently is.
Could the issue have been better handled by PAP, Ong and the media?
1. The media and online sites have focused on the human-interest portion of the story.
These issues should be what most of the media ought to be focusing on — the impact of Ong’s sudden departure, the by-election date and PAP’s response to the departure.
I mean, these were the public interest issues, right?
It was what The Straits Times (“Bukit Batok residents shocked by MP David Ong’s resignation“) and Lianhe Zaobao (“Bukit Batok expressed surprise and regret“) did, with Lianhe Wanbao noting Bukit Batok residents hoped Ong could account for his actions.
But some of the online sites went wild with the revelations, focusing exclusively on Lim and her family instead.
A new establishment-sympathetic blog (check out the number of PAP and union MPs they have featured so far) did a feature on Lim, digging up all her personal details from her Facebook account and company.
Media-accredited site Yahoo News carried a blog post that provided a photo feature on Lim that reveals nothing useful in general.
2. The People’s Action Party (PAP) acted decisively but not openly.
At a Chingay event in Tanjong Pagar GRC, Minister Chan Chun Sing told the media that the party has “taken very decisive action from the time we knew of this very unfortunate incident”.
It is true that PAP was very decisive in letting Ong go, to uphold the high moral standards it demands from its MPs.
This was what PM Lee expected from his MPs in his rules of prudence letter.
“The PAP has held our position in successive elections because our integrity has never been in doubt, and because we are sensitive to the views and attitudes of the people we represent. 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 by any MP, will erode confidence in him, and ultimately in the Party and Government…You should conduct yourselves always with modesty, decorum and dignity, particularly in the media.”
PAP has also considered the Bukit Batok residents’ interests, as it has found a stand-by MP (Senior Minister of State Desmond Lee) to take care of them.
But were they as open to the public about the matter?
Of course, one would ask how much is too much information.
But one is not demanding that the PAP hold a Committee of Inquiry (COI) or to have those US-style press conferences so that the media could crucify the politician.
But one just has to compare how the PAP handled former Speaker Michael Palmer’s resignation and you will notice a world of difference in tone and style.
First, no press conference from Ong. PAP just allowed Ong to simply disappear.
Yesterday (March 13), both Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News (March 13) staked out at Ong’s house.
Wanbao reported that a lady said that Ong was not home.
However, Shin Min revealed that Ong said that he would not go out, with his wife contradicting him by saying that he was not home.
Ong’s wife declined to reply to Shin Min‘s query whether she will forgive him, instead repeating to the Chinese newspaper that Ong was not home.
Contrast this to Palmer, who held a press conference with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in December 2012 and told the press:
“I have resigned to take full responsibility for a grave mistake that I have committed. I had a relationship with a member of the People’s Association staff working in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. While the individual did not work with me directly, Punggol East used to be part of the GRC and continues to work with it. My conduct was improper and it was a serious error of judgment.”
Secondly, PAP was in fact less open in revealing when it discovered Ong’s misconduct.
According to The Straits Times, Chan did not specify when the PAP got wind of Ong’s problems, saying only that the party acted “in a very short time”.
Compare this to how DPM Teo handled Palmer’s resignation.
Teo told the media the party came to know of the matter on Dec. 8, 2012. And Teo met Palmer on the same day.
Teo also revealed that they informed PM Lee and PM Lee met Palmer the following day (Dec. 9, 2012).
They then took two days (Dec. 10 and Dec. 11) to manage the handing over of responsibilities at Punggol East SMC before holding a press conference a day after (Dec. 12).
Lastly, there was no clear apology from Ong with his immoral conduct.
Ong only “deeply apologise(d) for having to step down prematurely”.
Unlike Palmer, Ong did not admit any mistake for his conduct or share whether the misconduct has affected his performance of his duty as a Bukit Batok MP.
3. Finally, Ong’s lack of clarity about his resignation has created undue stress on Wendy Lim’s family.
Initially, we learnt from Ong’s letter to PM Lee that he resigned “for personal reasons, and with a heavy heart”.
Did he resign for health reasons? Was his family member unwell?
An hour later, we learnt that it was a “personal indiscretion”.
So, it could very well be a parking fine or spitting in the public.
Below were the texts that Ong sent, according to Mediacorp’s Channel 5 news.
This was exactly the same as the pithy three-sentence statement that Ong gave The Straits Times.
Could Ong have revealed more information instead?
Could Ong have asked the media and the public to give the same sort of privacy to Lim’s family in his statement?
In Palmer’s resignation, DPM Teo wisely left the media with this concluding statement:
“Those involved are suffering much hurt from this episode. They need time and space for healing to take place. I hope Singaporeans will give them the time and space and that time will be able to rebuild their lives.”
Without these words of wisdom during this sorry episode, the media has lost all restraint in pursuing the truth.
The New Paper, Shin Min and Wan Bao had Lim’s photos on the front page yesterday.
Shin Min went further, highlighting Lim’s husband on the front page.
Shin Min staked out at Lim’s condominium, with Shin Min attempting to interview Lim’s younger brother.
Wan Bao went to the home of Lim’s mother-in-law at Bukit Batok and interviewed her.
Lest we forget, Ong, not Lim, is the public figure who needs to be accountable to the 18,204 Bukit Batok residents who voted for him in General Election 2015.
In his last act as a public figure, Ong had chosen to protect only himself and his family.
And that may well be the lasting impression he left behind for many Singaporeans in this sorry episode.