In letter, Low refutes criticism that expulsion was hasty and careless
By Andrea Ong & Kor Kian Beng
Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang has made clear that he and the party's election committee had 'absolutely no idea' of the alleged extramarital affairs of sacked member Yaw Shin Leong when they decided to field him as a candidate in last May's General Election.
'Even though I was familiar with Yaw Shin Leong's background and I have met his family and attended his two wedding ceremonies, I have no way and no authority to inspect his private matters and personal life.
'I am a Member of Parliament, not a private investigator!' Mr Low said in a letter to Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on Monday.
He added: 'Mr Ho Kah Leong said I should take responsibility for the Yaw Shin Leong saga. May I ask how I should take responsibility?'
Mr Low was replying to the former People's Action Party MP, who had criticised the WP's conduct in the matter.
Mr Ho, a former senior parliamentary secretary, said in a letter to Lianhe Zaobao three days ago, that he found it hard to believe Mr Low had not known anything about Mr Yaw's personal life and family.
He questioned if the WP had stringent selection criteria for its candidates and called on Mr Low to take responsibility.
Replying, Mr Low said that even though he had worked with Mr Yaw for many years, he and the committee that pick election candidates had no idea of the allegations until the media reports emerged last month.
Mr Low's statement is the strongest denial yet that the WP leaders knew of the alleged indiscretions of the Hougang MP, who has reportedly left the country. Sources said he was in Vietnam last Friday.
At a media conference last Wednesday announcing Mr Yaw's expulsion, party chairman Sylvia Lim said queries from the media on the allegations were 'the first time that we were aware the media was looking into this matter'.
In his letter on Monday, Mr Low also rebutted Mr Ho on several other points.
He said his relationship with Mr Yaw had been that of working colleagues, not the 'master-apprentice' tie described by Mr Ho. Mr Yaw succeeded Mr Low in Hougang, where the opposition veteran was MP for 20 years.
Mr Low also refuted Mr Ho's criticism that the expulsion seemed hasty and careless. Mr Yaw should have been given a chance to defend himself, Mr Ho said.
Mr Low argued that about a month had lapsed between the first media reports on the allegations and the sacking.
'From start to finish, Yaw Shin Leong did not step forward to state his stand, and refused to explain himself to the executive council,' wrote Mr Low. The WP then 'had no choice but to expel him'.
Finally, he took issue with Mr Ho's charge that the WP was abusing the democratic system by calling for a by-election - which requires a lot of public resources - to uphold the party's image.
Mr Low said the WP expelled Mr Yaw 'because he was irresponsible and had lost the public's trust'.
He also said that in 1992, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had on his own accord resigned as an MP, triggering a by-election in Marine Parade GRC just one year after the 1991 General Election.
In the 1991 election campaign, Mr Goh had promised to hold a by-election in 18 months because, among other things, he wanted to bring new talent into the party and Government.
Current Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the newcomer in the by-election slate.
In a separate development, Ms Lim confirmed that Mr Yaw's grassroots arm in Hougang is being re-organised for a leadership reshuffle.
Two WP executive council members have been added to the Hougang Constituency Committee to beef up its ranks.
They are deputy webmaster Png Eng Huat, 50, who contested in East Coast GRC last year, and organising secretary Ng Swee Bee, 31.
Their appointment has sparked talk that either could be fielded in the Hougang by-election.
When asked, Ms Lim said: 'I'm not answering that question.'
My armchair analysis of Low thia Kiang's response, and what might have been a better response.
In summary, Low's response was:
"We had absolutely no idea of the alleged extramarital affairs of Yaw Shin Leong when we decided to field him as a candidate in last May's General Election. Even though I was familiar with Yaw Shin Leong's background and I have met his family and attended his two wedding ceremonies, I have no way and no authority to inspect his private matters and personal life. I am a Member of Parliament, not a private investigator!'
How should I take responsibility?
My relationship with Mr Yaw had been that of working colleagues, not the 'master-apprentice' relationship some claim it is.
From start to finish, Yaw Shin Leong did not step forward to state his stand, and refused to explain himself to the executive council we had no choice but to expel him because he was irresponsible and he had lost the public's trust."
Here's my suggested response for Low.
"I have known Yaw for over 10 years since his work at Hougang. In all that time, I have found him capable, dedicated, and passionate about our cause and over the last 10 years, I have grown to trust him so much that when I decided to join the GE 2011 team campaigning for Aljunied GRC, I entrusted Hougang to him. When these rumours surfaced, I of course asked him about it. When he did not explain to me, I did not press him initially. If the rumours were true, certainly anyone with any sense of shame would be hesitant to admit it. I gave him time to gather his courage and talk to me, confide in me, not as his party chief, but on the basis of our friendship, and mutual trust that we have built up over the years. But he remained silent, and now apparently he has run off without any explanation to the people who have worked with him, trusted him, and supported him.
We finally had no choice but to expel him from the party, not because he is not a good MP, or even because of the rumours, because even if true, that was a personal matter. But while his personal conduct was a private matter, having been brought into the public discussion, he had a responsibility to the people who voted for him, and the people who supported him, to at least explain himself. Apparently he had planned to run off, even before we had decided to expel him.
I am deeply disappointed in him. I feel betrayed. He has betrayed my trust, betrayed our years of friendship, but most important of all, he has betrayed the people of Hougang who voted for him. And if some people had voted for him because of my endorsement of him, because I presented him as my worthy successor, then I have failed those people as well. I sincerely apologise to the people of Hougang. Yaw has not only broken faith with the people of Hougang, but also with the Workers' Party, and has set back the opposition movement. I can fully understand if Hougang voters decide to give their votes to PAP in the by-election. I will not blame them. I cannot blame them.
PM Lee has said that he will call a by election in later as now is a bad time with many things on the national agenda. We understand this, and certainly this crisis is not of the PAP making, but don't punish the people of Hougang for the irresponsibility of one man, and my misjudgement. Hougang residents will need an MP even if it is a PAP MP."