This Hougang by-election is pretty interesting and we do not have by-elections that often.
Both WP and PAP are using the same election strategy to date. They want their candidates to preserve their image and not get into ugly fist fights while their party "heavy weights" will do the dirty job for them. Their candidates will continue to say this will be a good clean contest while their party elders would just throw punches all over the place. Someone has pointed out, fighting through "proxies" are common tactic.
First, Mr Low Thia Khiang pulled his solid punches at Desmond Choo during WP's first rally. He said Desmond Choo "used taxpayers' money to paste it on his face", meaning, Desmond has used public money for the various programs which he runs in Hougang.
Desmond Choo responded in a cool and mild way, saying that these funds are raised from other sources, not from government coffers.WP didn't follow up with any further attacks thereafter.
When it ws PAP's turn to hold its first rally, DPM Teo didn't hold back his punches as well. He insinuated that Png was not the "best man" WP has put up because he wasn't even considered good enough for the NCMP position by WP in last GE2011.
Personally I find this as a non issue but Png, in defence of his status, replied right in front of the TV camera that he wasn't interested in NCMP seat at all and has "took out his name from the ballot" for consideration of NCMP. That sound really altruistic and solid stand until that elusive "Secret Squirrel" leaked the minutes of that CEC meeting which decides who is to become NCMP for WP.
Subsequently Png tried to explain that he didn't mean literally taking his name out of the ballot but just that he wasn't interested in the NCMP post in the first place. He said he has told the Party leaders and his team mates about his disinterest. Eric Tan has come out to ascertain that Png did told him that he is not interested in the NCMP post. Kudos to Eric because his testimony would lend the strongest support to Png's account, taking into account the fact that Eric left WP disgruntled because he felt betrayed.
Mr Low Thia Khiang has gone on record to support Png and personally guaranteed Png is a man of integrity. He has accused Secret Squirrel has made this calculative move in the "weak attempt" to damage Png and WP.
However, DPM Teo has continued his missile attacks on Png's integrity by noting that Mr Low has in fact confirmed that Png was dishonest because he was indeed deemed unsuitable to become NCMP by the party when he only garnered one vote in that ballot.
Now what do we have here? Putting aside about who is right who is wrong, Just look at the way both candidates handle the punches thrown at them. Desmond Choo has responded in a very appropriate way, using the soft approach, even close to making people crying that how hard he has worked on raising the funds for his projects and programs. This left WP speechless.
On the other hand, Png got himself entangled in the issue of doubts cast on his integrity and honesty. Someone asked me how would I respond if I am Png, the following is my reply:
Apparently, Png has made the grave mistake of replying to TCH. It wasn't an issue at all. He should have answered, it doesn't really matter whether PAP DPM Teo thinks whether he is the best candidate for Hougang. It is up for the Hougang voters to decide between him and Desmond Choo, who is the better candidate to serve Hougang. WP has nominated me to contest and PAP has nominated Desmond Choo. I won't comment on whether Desmond Choo is PAP's BEST candidate, whatever it means to DPM Teo. But let Hougang voters decide.
Such simple answer could just parry off the attack.
But since he has made the fatal mistake, he could have backtrack in proper manner. Just apologize for the mistake made in his response given to CNA. It is unwise to blame CNA for misrepresentation because it is all recorded on video. Honesty is the best policy now. Just apologize for making a mistake and say that after checking with the minutes of the meeting, he realized that he didn't raise the issue of not wanting to be NCMP during that ballot. Say sorry that he has remembered wrongly but he did indicate to so and so that he is not interested in NCMP. He has even spoken against NCMP scheme in rallies blah blah. But he cannot stop CEC members from giving him that vote of confidence to be NCMP.
That would end the saga. He was given the chance to make clarification but he screwed up again by being ambiguous. It gives readers the feeling that he was not forthcoming with his explanation. There is nothing wrong in making a mistake in your statement if you admit it outright. Don't try to explain it away when the words you used is indisputably clear. That will look very bad on you. Just admit that mistake and move on.
This come to my point. Whether or not Png is the best candidate nominated by WP, it seems that he is not ready to become MP just yet. He has ample time to think of a response to DPM Teo's attack but he failed quite badly. If he genuinely misrepresented his own thoughts during that CNA interview, it just shows that he isn't sharp and careful enough to say what he means, to mean what he says. If he could not even represent his himself effectively in such simple matter, how could voters expect him to represent their voice in parliament?
His second chance to clarify the issue went bad as well, if not WORSE. As I have stated, it will make one looks very very bad to try and explain ambiguity from words spoken in such an indisputable manner. He has risked his own credibility here. I have heard the voice recording of this little "press conference" outside HGTC. He fumbled.
If he cannot respond effectively to counter-attacks after one night preparation for it, could we expect him to debate effectively in parliament?
I don't know how well Desmond Choo is in terms of debating skills but at the very least, so far, he didn't expose his weakness in this aspect.
I hate to say this but really, Png does not seem to be ready to be MP in parliament, not because of all the doubts cast on his integrity and honesty, but rather, his inability to handle pressure, media and attacks from his opponents. He may be a good grassroot person, doing welfare work on the ground but when it comes to politics, it means more than social welfare work.
Goh Meng Seng