Singapore - The furore over an opposition candidate's electoral form is threatening to turn Singapore's general election into a 'Gomezgate,' but will not be a deciding factor for voters in Saturday's general election, political analysts say.
For all the sound and fury, worries about the cost of living, jobs and health care are paramount and will likely catapult the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) back into the power it has held since independence from Malaysia in 1965.
'When it comes to Singapore politics, the litmus test will be whether politicians can take care of their constituencies,' said Terence Chong, a fellow with the Institute of South-East Asian Studies. 'That's what the voters will be looking out for,' he added.
However, instead of keeping the focus on pertinent issues in the short nine-day campaigning period, the PAP has diverted attention to Worker's Party (WP) candidate James Gomez's claim on April 26 that he had submitted his minority race candidacy form to the Elections Department. After the department denied that he had, a security camera recording showed that Gomez put the document back in his briefcase while at the department.
Though still eligible to contest the seat in parliament without filing the form, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew called ethnic Indian Gomez a 'liar' and joined other PAP leaders in urging his withdrawal.
'By chipping away at Gomez, the PAP is hoping the Worker's Party as a whole will be put in a bad light,' said political analyst Chong.
Attacking the 'weakest link' is a classic ploy for the PAP, veteran observers said.
International human rights groups have long criticized the city-state for its spate of defamation suits against political opponents and curbs on freedom of expression.
While the current incident would be regarded as trivial in Western democracies, PAP leaders have indicated that it has no bearing in the city-state of 4.2 million people.
'The young journalists say we must have opposition, we must have this, we must have that,' founding father Lee told a political rally Tuesday night. 'We are not Americans. We are not British. We are not Australian. We are a very unique country.'
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, elevated to the post when his predecessor Goh Chok Tong stepped down in 2004, is aiming for a huge mandate from voters and the elimination of the only two opposition candidates in the 84-member parliament.
The opposition parties managed to prevent the PAP from catapulting into power on Nomination Day by contesting 47 seats, the highest number in 18 years.
Gomez, a 41-year-old researcher with a think-tank based in Sweden called Idea International, said he realized he had become 'the candidate under fire,' but was still focused on contesting the election.
He apologized for causing any distress at the department during a weekend rally and said the incident was a mistake, but refused to elaborate further to reporters.
Also under fire is WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, convinced of Gomez's honesty and seeking a fourth term in parliament from his constituency. His calls to 'move on' and stop distracting the voters 'from the real issues' have gone unheeded.
'How much more embarrassed do you want Gomez to be?' asked political observer Gillian Koh. 'How much blood can you squeeze from this stone?'
Analysts have raised the prospect of the PAP's tactics backfiring if young voters become sympathetic to Gomez's plight and Lee securing less than his hoped for landslide. Concerns have also arisen that Lee may not receive the 75 per cent popular mandate the PAP won in 2001 under then prime minister Goh.
The missing form episode is preventing the parties 'from engaging on the issues that matter,' said Eugene Tan, Singapore Management University assistant law professor. 'It is not that the issue doesn't matter. 'I think we need to rise above this.'
WP chairwoman Sylvia Lim said there would be no Gomez saga if elections were run by an independent commission. The Elections Department reports to the prime minister's office.
'As far as we are concerned, we are clean,' she said. 'Our consciences are clear.'
4 May 2006
Damn those foreign press. Time for the PAP to change the damn record and get back to the bread and butter issues.