SINGAPORE: In a profound address to Parliament on Wednesday, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, acknowledged his oversight in not intervening earlier in the illicit affair between the former Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan-Jin, and ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) MP, Cheng Li Hui.
PM Lee admitted to having been questioned about his delayed intervention in this matter, which has spanned more than two years since 2020, prior to the General Election.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) earlier announced on 17 July that Mr Tan and Ms Cheng had tendered their resignations from both parliament and PAP.
Addressing the critique, he admitted, “It is a fair question. In retrospect, and certainly now, knowing how things eventually turned out, I agree. I should have forced the issue sooner.”
The Prime Minister hoped that by permitting the matter some latitude initially, he could have provided a less harsh exit for the involved parties, thereby sparing them and their families the anguish and embarrassment they are presently undergoing.
He openly confessed, “I placed much weight on protecting their families – perhaps too much.”
The affair, brought to PM Lee’s attention first in November 2020, persisted despite separate counselling sessions and promises from both Mr Tan and Ms Cheng to end their relationship.
Reflecting on the fallout, PM Lee expressed regret, saying, “Regrettably, in the end Mr Tan and Ms Cheng did not stop the affair, and both had to go. On reflection, as I said, I should have forced the issue earlier, certainly before midterm.”
PM Lee offered insights into his general approach to such situations, stating, “These sorts of relationships happen from time to time. They have happened in the past, and no doubt will happen again in the future. In such cases, what is done depends on many factors – the circumstances, how inappropriate or scandalous the behaviour is, and the family situations.”
Reaffirming PAP’s longstanding practice, he said, “We also have to be conscious of the impact on innocent parties – particularly the spouses and children… This is not a new position – it reflects the PAP’s longstanding practice, since the days of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”
The Prime Minister then laid out three scenarios that could follow an extramarital affair. He explained that the ongoing situation involving Mr Tan and Ms Cheng falls into the third category, where the affair, beyond being extramarital, raises questions of propriety. He stressed, “The present situation falls into this third category. It’s wrong. Mr Tan and Ms Cheng had to stop their affair. I told them to stop.”
Despite the scandal, PM Lee urged understanding for the families of those involved, including those affected by the affair between former Aljunied GRC MP Leon Perera and former senior Workers’ Party member Nicole Seah. “Likewise for the case involving a former member across the aisle, in the Workers’ Party. All their families are suffering,” PM Lee noted, urging the public to empathise and provide these families with the privacy and space needed to heal.
Addressing the integrity of the PAP amidst recent events, PM Lee asserted, “For the good of our country, we will carry through what needs to be done in accordance with the law, even if it may be politically embarrassing and painful to the party. I will not flinch or hesitate to do my duty, to keep our system robust and clean.”
He maintained that the PAP would continue to uphold high standards, emphasising, “But we will show Singaporeans that we will uphold standards and do the right thing, so that trust is maintained, and the Singapore system continues to work well.”
Looking forward, he voiced confidence in his successor’s ability to preserve Singapore’s strength and prosperity, stating, “This is my approach, and I am confident it will be my successor’s approach too. And this is how we will keep Singapore safe, strong and prosperous for many years to come.”
PM Lee emphasised the PAP’s commitment to governing with integrity, assuring parliamentarians and Singaporeans that when such issues arise, the party will deal with them transparently and appropriately.
He highlighted that these recent incidents demonstrate two aspects of the PAP government’s operations – zero tolerance for corruption and a sensitive, humane approach to personal indiscretions, guided by the principles established by the party.
As PM Lee concluded, he reassured that the PAP Government would continue to minimise the risk of missteps, stating, “In any system, however comprehensive the safeguards, sometimes something will still go wrong. The PAP Government does our utmost to minimise that possibility,” reminding that the government works hard to identify and vet individuals for responsible positions and uphold the nation’s principles.
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