SINGAPORE – SEPTEMBER 11: Prime Minister and People’s Action Party (PAP) Secretary-General, Lee Hsien Loong (L) and Dr Koh Poh Koon (R) celebrate after winning their seat for the Ang Mo Kew Group Representation Constituency (GRC) on September 11, 2015 in Singapore.
Sahimi Abdullah Getty Images News | Getty Images
SINGAPORE — Political scandals are rare in Singapore. The city-state has long touted its clean governance and unbeaten image to bolster its position as a key financial hub in Asia to attract foreign investors.
But the Southeast Asian nation is now embroiled in a series of high-profile incidents that have confounded its political elite.
Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University, told CNBC that this is the “most acute crisis” facing Singapore as the latest events “may further erode public trust and confidence” in the government.
“The ruling party now looks as vulnerable as it has ever done in recent memory,” he added. “He’s got a mountain to climb now. How it heals will make a big difference.”
In the latest blow, the political crisis deepened after the sudden resignations of two lawmakers, including the Speaker of Parliament.t, On an affair this week. Both were members of the ruling People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since 1959.
The revelation came as officials said Cabinet Minister S Iswaran and a business leader in Singapore were involved in a high-profile corruption probe by the Anti-Corruption Agency.
“These are serious reputation marks for the PAP government which has long prided itself on governing with honesty, integrity, and competence,” said SMU’s Tan.
Tan Ern Seer, associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, added that the series of events “came in rapid succession to damage the image of the ruling party.”
This is especially true, he added, given that “cleanliness is one of the key pillars of the PAP brand.”
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday that he has decided on the current Speaker of Singapore’s Parliament. Tan Chuan Jin “Had to know.”
The decision came after he was informed that Tan and another PAP lawmaker, Cheng Lee Hui, were continuing their “inappropriate relationship” after the Prime Minister advised them to end their relationship in February.
SMU’s Tan told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” that in Singapore, politicians are held to very high standards because the ruling party’s “entire foundation of its political legitimacy” is based on “clean and no-nonsense governance.”
He added that what the government does now is important.
“It has to go beyond damage control to renew or clean up its system of vulnerabilities, blind spots and weaknesses,” Tan said. “This is the surest way to avoid losing trust and confidence.”
The prime minister’s office did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Last week, Singapore’s Transport Minister S Aswaran and prominent hotel tycoon Ong Bang Seng, arrested Before being released on bail, in the country’s most serious corruption probe in nearly four decades.
Both men are currently Assisting in investigationsSingapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau revealed.
Government officials of Singapore Among the highest paid in the world, as the country tries to discourage corruption and attract the best talent. Ministers are paid about 1.1 million Singapore dollars ($822,000) a year. Website of Public Service Division.
Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said the political “drama” that has unfolded has come as “a real surprise, perhaps a shock” to Singaporeans.
Singaporeans, not accustomed to political scandals, resort to memes to express themselves. Discussions and comments on social media in the local media have also had an impact on the country.
NTU’s Tan said that while the latest series of incidents “does not portray a failure of the system”, it certainly serves as a “test for the government” to reassess its high standards.
The lecturer said that when similar scandals happen to the opposition, “the PAP will take the moral high ground and insist the opposition do the right thing.”
“And yet, what these cases have shown is that the PAP is doing exactly what they have urged others not to do,” he said, adding that the government should be “more transparent” in its dealings with the people.
The corruption scandal came under public scrutiny of two other ministers who had rented government bungalows for their personal use. Questions were raised on whether they were paying below market rates for the properties.
in June, A government review There was no evidence of corruption or criminal wrongdoing in the case.
“I think a lot depends on how the government deals with these findings,” said Tan from NUS. “I am confident that the state institutions are still strong, and the checkpoints will be strengthened in the process of responding to these challenges.”
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (L) shakes hands with a PAP supporter during an election rally in May.
Simeon Wang | AFP | Getty Images
The prime minister sought immediate damage control by asserting the government’s zero-tolerance approach to corruption to address public concerns.
“Cleanliness and anti-corruption, as well as high standards of personal conduct, are the main reasons why Singaporeans trust and respect the PAP, and have given us their mandate to form government.” Lee said Monday.
But He also admitted“No system can be completely wrong.”
“Sometimes things add up, but we make sure we get them right, and I hope I put them right and we’ll be able to set the right tone for a long time to come,” Lee added.
The political fallout comes at a critical time for Singapore, which is undergoing a difficult leadership transition. The prime minister wants to hand over the leadership of power to the next generation in the near future.
“The longer it takes, the more it will raise concerns about whether the next generation of leaders is ready,” said SMU’s Tan.
At a briefing this week, Lee said he had no plans to call snap elections despite the vacant seats in parliament. Singapore will hold presidential elections in the next few months and general elections are not due until 2025.
He said that we are in the second half of the current government’s term, we have started the parliament recently. “We have a full agenda for this term, we’re working on it and that’s what we’ll be focusing on.”
Tan, from the NUS, said that if elections were held now, “the negative impact on the PAP’s electoral performance would be significant.”
He added that as the government faces pressure from “persistently high inflation”, including rising concerns over housing affordability, the ruling party needs to close ranks and “stay on track” to achieve “credible performance”.
While it is hard to predict whether the scandals will damage the ruling party and allow the opposition to gain a foothold, “there will certainly be a heavy political price,” notes SMU’s Tan.
“How much is the political cost? We don’t know at this stage,” he added.
“At the very least, it can cause an element of doubt. So voters may be more willing to see what other parties have to offer.”
He added that it will be difficult for the government to regain the trust of the people. “Confidence needs to be rebuilt. That too will take time, but not long before the next general election.”