One year later, however, things are very different. Mr Yaw’s silence on his alleged extra-marital affairs earlier this year led to his dismissal from the WP which then resulted in his seat in Hougang being declared vacant from 14 February.
The WP’s action of sacking Mr Yaw has drawn mixed reactions from the public. Some applaud the WP for “doing the right thing”, and putting the interests of Singaporeans, particularly Hougang voters, above that of the party’s.
Others question the WP’s candidate selection process. They point to the fact that Mr Yaw had been in the party for more than 10 years, and the inability of the party to get Mr Yaw to account to voters – and indeed to the party itself - for his alleged affairs. Following the controversy, Mr Low, who is believed to have personally endorsed Mr Yaw’s candidacy in last year’s General Election, said that he and the party’s election committee had “absolutely no idea” about Mr Yaw’s alleged extra-marital affairs when the party fielded him in last year’s elections.
With just 3 months since Mr Yaw’s sacking from the WP, the issue may play on voters’ minds come Polling Day on 26 May.
Hougang voters will decide if the WP’s handling of the saga has been adequate, and whether the party has lived up to its General Election slogan of a “first world parliament” in the one year since the 2011 elections. They may also question if WP candidates and MPs have demonstrated the accountability which the party itself has demanded from the ruling party.
It may come down to the question of the personal integrity of WP candidates, that they conduct themselves in an appropriate manner befitting public officers and are accountable to the public when questions are raised about their conduct; and the integrity of the party itself in dealing with such matters.
Hougang voters and indeed Singaporeans in general may have mixed feelings on the issue – they may feel aggrieved that Mr Yaw had been less than forthcoming in the controversy, but at the same time they may also feel that the WP has done “the right thing” in sacking him.
Will the WP suffer a drop in vote share because of the issue? This may depend on how the PAP plays its cards in the by-election but it is doubtful that the PAP will want to try to milk the controversy in its bid to win back the opposition ward which has been in the WP fold since 1991. The WP’s brand name doesn’t seem to have been impacted significantly by the Yaw saga.
The PAP thus faces a daunting task of trying to reverse at least 15% of the vote in Hougang in order to wrestle it back from the WP. Even if the PAP sent out its big guns ministers to the ground to canvass for its likely candidate, Mr Desmond Choo, they would not carry much weight, especially in the prevailing political climate. In fact, the ministers themselves are seen as the causes of the ills which Singaporeans perceive in matters such as housing, jobs, wages, and the frequent breakdowns of the transport system.
The PAP’s battle encompasses a wider national sentiment of unhappiness with these bread and butter issues. One would think that it is no different in Hougang, and the WP can be expected to play these up to deflect attention from the Yaw saga.
For the PAP, therefore, the Hougang campaign will refocus attention on its national policies.
The party’s secretary general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is expected to lead the charge for the SMC, lending his weight to Mr Choo’s campaign, and address these national issues which will inevitably surface. Mr Lee’s presence will also be needed to counter Mr Low’s personal popularity in Hougang, which does not seem to have been affected much by what happened to Mr Yaw, his anointed successor in the ward.
It would thus seem that the WP will have a relatively comfortable victory in Hougang, its integrity intact.
As for the PAP, it will want to get the by-election done and over with as soon as possible, which could explain the prime minister’s earlier than expected call for the by-election.
Perhaps Singaporeans too want the same, as there are many serious issues which the country faces at the moment.
Whatever the outcome of the by-election, one thing’s for certain: Hougang voters will have a new MP come 26 May, and all sides can finally put the matter to rest.