PAP did not engage in ‘gutter politics’ in 2016 Bukit Batok by-election: Tharman
SINGAPORE – The People’s Action Party (PAP) did not engage in gutter politics during the Bukit Batok by-election last year, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Thursday (Sep 28) in a Facebook post in which he called out social media commentators claiming that he agreed with the assertion that it did.
Mr Tharman also reiterated that the “character of candidates is at the heart of politics”. “Voters look at a politician’s actions over time, judge his motivations and integrity, and decide whether they can trust him. If Singaporeans ever come to ignore the track record and integrity of politicians, in the PAP or any other parties, it is Singapore that will end up in the gutter. That has been the story of many nations,” he added.
His comments came a week after he spoke on the topic during a question and answer session after he had delivered the inaugural Majulah Lecture at the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU). During the dialogue, Mr Tharman was asked by an audience member whether he agreed with the PAP’s tactics of engaging in gutter politics and character assassination in recent elections, including the Bukit Batok by-election which was held in May last year.
The term “gutter politics” was previously used by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan who lost the by-election to the PAP’s Murali Pillai, and had criticised the ruling party for making personal attacks during the campaign period.
Mr Tharman said in his Facebook post: “I did not entertain the assertion about the PAP engaging in gutter politics in Bukit Batok. It is an assertion that is recycled from time to time, and has been the SDP’s position. But having seen social media commentaries claiming that I had agreed with the assertion, I am making my views clear.”
He also pointed out that during the by-election, the PAP had “contrasted” Dr Chee’s character with Mr Murali’s, with the ruling party highlighting “how Dr Chee was proud about his past”.
“Dr Chee and his colleagues in the SDP responded by arguing that questions of character should not be raised in elections, and accused the PAP of gutter politics for doing so,” said Mr Tharman.
At last week’s event, Mr Tharman said he did not agree “with every tactic by every one of my colleagues”, adding that nevertheless, the PAP continues to be defined by its insistence on “character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans”. He also acknowledged that the ruling party has fallen short of its standards at times, and when this happens, action is taken against individuals who have let the party down.
Elaborating on his remarks at the NTU event, Mr Tharman said on Thursday: “More generally - are there occasional differences of views on issues within Government, or within the PAP? Of course there are, and that’s healthy. But once any course of action is decided, there is no question that we take collective responsibility for it in the leadership.”