Singapore government under pressure over sex scandal
Singapore opposition parties urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday to call a by-election after the parliamentary speaker abruptly resigned due to an extramarital affair.
The calls came less than 24 hours after Michael Palmer, 44, publicly confessed and announced his resignation from his parliamentary seat and membership of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
Confessing to “a serious error of judgment”, the married father of one – who was only sworn in as speaker in October last year – said he quit “to avoid further embarrassment to the PAP and to Parliament”.
Local dailies on Thursday splashed pictures of Laura Ong, a 33-year-old married community worker identified as Palmer’s lover, in the latest sex scandal to hit the city-state.
The resurgent political opposition immediately urged Premier Lee to call a by-election to fill Palmer’s seat in the Punggol East ward.
“We strongly urge the Prime Minister to call for a by-election as soon as possible, to ensure that the constituents of Punggol East are democratically represented hereafter,” Singapore People’s Party chairman Lina Chiam said in a statement.
The Workers’ Party echoed the call and announced its intention to run for the vacated seat.
Reform Party secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam said in a statement it was “strongly considering contesting this seat if and when a by-election is called”.
Opposition politician Benjamin Pwee told the Straits Times daily he was also intending to contest the seat, possibly as an independent.
Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan said on Thursday that Lee “cannot avoid calling for a by-election... without inflicting severe damage to his and his party’s political and moral standing”.
“Voters of Punggol East have been badly let down and they deserve the opportunity to elect another representative,” he added.
By law, the decision to call a by-election is made wholly at the prime minister’s discretion.
Lee however gave no indication of his intentions in a Facebook post.
“The constitution does not require me to call a by-election within any fixed timeframe,” Lee said on his Facebook page late Wednesday.
“I will carefully consider whether to call a by-election in Punggol East and, if so, when. I assure Singaporeans that I will make my decision based on what is best for the constituents of Punggol East and the country.”
Netizens weighed in on calls for a vote.
“Who win[s] the by election is secondary, what is important is the democratic process. MP [Members of Parliament] are elected by the people for the people not appointed by the winning party,” Ben Teo posted on Lee’s Facebook page.
Opposition parties have been emboldened since last year’s general election in which the Workers’ Party won a total six seats in the 87-member parliament, riding on a wave of sentiment against PAP policies on a range of issues, including its open-door policy on foreign workers.
The PAP suffered its lowest share of the popular vote since coming to power more than 50 years ago.