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Will PAP's slew of incidents shake public trust?

Will PAP's slew of incidents shake public trust?

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Singapore's ruling party, People’s Action Party (PAP), has dominated headlines lately following a string of recent scandals with members of its parliament (MP) in the last few weeks. Most recently, an affair between members of parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and PAP MP Cheng Li Hui was uncovered, forcing the two ministers to resign and step away from duties in the government in an explosive scandal that has held the attention of the nation. 

Just days before this, Singapore's transport minister S Iswaran was arrested and then released on bail after the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) stated that he was assisting with an investigation into a case that was uncovered by the agency. While the nature of the investigation was not revealed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong released a statement to say that the CPIB briefed him on a case CPIB had uncovered and sought his concurrence to open a formal investigation. PM Lee gave his agreement which meant that Iswaran and others would be interviewed. 

"I have instructed Minister Iswaran to take leave of absence until these investigations are completed. In Minister Iswaran's absence, senior minister of state Chee Hong Tat will be acting minister for transport," said PM Lee in his statement.  

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Considering that the news comes on the heels of the very public Ridout Road bungalow rental matter, there is a lot of damage control PAP needs to get ahead of. With the presidential election coming up in a few months and a general election set to take place in 2025, trust in PAP is of paramount importance as well as party sentiment. 

Jose Raymond, the director of strategic advisory at PRecious Communications noted that it is never smooth sailing for any government of the day. He said:

The current issue at hand will definitely damage the PAP's 'whiter than white' brand, locally and globally. The only unknown would be the extent of the impact.

Raymond added that the extent of the impact of these various incidents will largely remain unknown and that it will only be revealed at the next general elections. 

"It is very likely that the issue of the current probe, regardless of the outcome, and the other scandals, will be used as a political lighting rod by other political parties," Raymond noted.

Agreeing with him, Charu Srivastava, the chief strategy officer at TriOn & Co noted that the compounding effect of all these issues will very likely to result in people in the party doing some self-reflection and evaluation and that to mitigate a stain on its reputation globally and locally will all come down to the way the matter continues to be handled and the eventual outcome.

"The fact that the incident is being investigated is a step in the right direction. However, it remains to see whether the details of the investigation, the outcome and the consequences are shared honestly and with transparency. That will eventually determine whether Singapore is applauded for being fair and just against this rare corruption case, or otherwise," she said. 

What PAP needs to recover

Admittedly, PAP, as a consecutive ruling party of Singapore for many years, will certainly face challenges with a new generation of voters. In Singapore's last elections in 2020, PAP suffered its worst electoral performance since Singapore came to independence in terms of the number of seats lost to the opposition. PAP won only 61.24% of the votes cast and 83 seats out of 93 at the general elections, a significant drop from the 69.9% vote share it saw in the 2015 general elections. 

As a result, recovering from a string of incidents transparently and quickly is crucial. There are various strategies that PAP can use to recover from the setback though, said Raymond. 

"This will include an aggressive ground strategy to communicate its position on the accusations and the outcome, the use of social media to drum up its position that there is no place for crooked or inappropriate behaviour regardless the position one holds, and the blanket use of mainstream media to ensure that it gets its message across to the swing voters, who will be the critical body of voters to keep on their side for the next general elections," he said. 

Adding on, Srivastava noted that while the resignations by Tan and Cheng are a "clear action" by the party as a result of breach of party ethics and values, PAP needs to be honest and transparent.

"While there might be questions about the timeline of the resignations in light of the affair being known in February, it is a good move by PAP to show action and consequences of wrong-doing," she said. "Similarly, PAP needs to be honest and transparent in its handling of the ongoing CPIB case. A quick Google search will show that people have many valid questions but there is little clarity from the PAP," Srivastava pointed out.

She noted that it will be good for PAP to remain clear about consequences of misconduct - be it corruption or unparliamentary language. Mere apologies or generic holding statements are not enough, she said, adding:

Action speaks louder than words, and the PAP needs to show that it walks the talk of being just and fair without bias.

Agreeing with her, Edwin Yeo, the general manager at Strategic Public Relations Group noted that it lends credibility that PAP decided to be vocal about some of the issues such as the Ridout Road saga and Iswaran's case. 

"Generally, while there will be some impact on trust, the fundamental social contract they have with the public is that PAP continues to run the country efficiently and that Singaporeans live a good life," he said.

"In that regard, I think a majority of Singaporeans would still feel that way. The real test will come at the next elections, which will serve to let us know how much the trust in that social contract has eroded," he said. 

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