PN Balji: Tambyah, Raeesah and PAP's GE2020 message

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Singapore is into the last lap of GE2020 and it has caught fire in unimaginable and unrealistic ways.

"The crisis of a generation" ministerial speeches have been pushed into the background with attacks on political personalities taking centre stage.

It is embarrassing to read some of the words being used in these attacks. Falsehoods, baseless, scurrilous, charade... even the word "mendacity" was thrown in.

Fear is still being used as a weapon to scare the opposition members. From Chee Soon Juan to Paul Tambyah and now to Raeesah Khan, the People's Action Party (PAP) has stepped on the pedal and turned up the heat.

The message really is to those who want to enter opposition politics: Enter the fray and expect to be pilloried in public.

What did Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah do wrong? He made two points that got PAP hot under the collar: the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told employers that their unwell foreign workers should not be sent to hospitals but instead to GPs who would serve as a first stop to deciding if they needed hospital care. Bosses who didn't do this would be penalised.

That was on Feb 19 soon after the Seletar Aerospace cluster happened.

The doctor felt the Manpower Ministry should not be the government organisation to hand out such an order because it "goes against the principles of public health".

What he didn't do was to give a full-blown background to the MOM action. He summarised the government's action without adding that they should be sent to hospitals only in an emergency and that the same advice also applied to Singaporeans.

What must have upset the employers was the threat of penalties for bosses who continued to send their sick workers to hospitals instead of first referring them to GPs.

It was unclear if Singaporeans were given similar warnings.

So Dr Tambyah's crime was to not give the full-blown picture of what had happened. Was a Pofma deserved for this? If one believes that Pofma is to be used against dangerous and false statements that fracture society, then this case is questionable.

The other was when Dr Tambyah said that the ministers, not the doctors, were in the public forefront of the battle against Covid-19.

If the infectious diseases expert had stopped there, he might not have been attacked. He went further to say that doctors were not consulted.

Unless doctors involved come out to back the politician, I will not pass judgement.

Coming to the investigation against Workers' Party's Raeesah, a police report was made with a clear motive to disqualify her from the elections.

If you look at her Facebook post, you will see that her main point was about the privilege enjoyed by the rich and the connected.

But she got carried away and the rawness of her youth — she is 26 — introduced race into the picture. That was unfortunate and unnecessary.

She has apologised for it. The matter should rest there. But the PAP doesn't want to let go — it wants her party to say categorically what its stand is on her posts.

Raeesah and those wanting to enter politics has been made to realise that we live in a dangerous world of prying eyes with some people waiting to pounce on you for just one slip. Social media can democratise the world but it can also destroy.

These attacks seem to be aimed at candidates contesting in some of the hottest GE2020 seats and those who want to enter elections in the future. 

Enter the fray and expected to be roasted, that seems to be the message. 

Those who hoped that the 4G leadership will bring about a new political culture that will show the ruling elite as all-embracing better go in with their eyes open. 

PN Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who was formerly chief editor of Today and The New Paper. He is the author of the book Reluctant Editor and is currently a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.