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Singapore: Speaker of Parliament Resigns Over Sex Scandal

Michael Palmer, former Speaker of Parliament

Member of Parliament for Punggol East SMC (Single Member Constituency) and Singapore's Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer resigned on Wednesday after admitting to having an extramarital affair with a People's Association constituency director of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC (Group Representative Constituency).

The resignation came as a shock to Singapore, setting the blogosphere abuzz with speculation.

Alex Au questions Palmer's resignation:

Yes, I know he has admitted that he had an affair with a officer of the People’s Association who was indirectly related to his constituency, but if having extra-marital affairs alone disqualifies one from political office, then I think we’re going down a slippery slope. Politicians should not be expected to be saints. If we narrow the qualifications for office to such throttling moralistic standards, then we deprive ourselves of possible talent.

There are enough reasons why a politician should step down, for example, for romantic affairs that create a conflict of interest, abuse of power or a breach of confidentiality. Did Palmer’s affair give rise to one of these situations? The problem at this point is that we don’t know.

Palmer's resignation has also left Punggol East SMC without an elected representative in Parliament. However, the power to call a by-election rests with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose press statement was non-committal.

This episode has echoes of an earlier issue in the year, when Workers’ Party member Yaw Shin Leong was expelled from his party amidst allegations of an extramarital affair. The prime minister had also been hesitant in calling for a by-election, although one was eventually called in May.

In its editorial, The Online Citizen criticises the prime minister for not promising a by-election:

Still, blissfully unaware or choosing not to care, the PAP then ignored the key question that its institutional memory should have found impossible to forget: When would a by-election be called? Instead, Teo opted to side-step the question, deferring it to the PM to decide on whether to call a by-election or not. His stand was further supported by the PM.

In the aftermath of the Hougang SMC by-election, the PAP should have guessed that this would have been the question on everyone’s mind. It should have come to the table prepared with a clear yes or no. Being elusive does it no favours and insults the people’s intelligence.

Ng E- Jay praises Low Thia Khiang – Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party – and his reaction to Palmer's resignation:

The relentless attack on WP conducted by both the PAP and the state-controlled media during the Yaw Shin Leong affair contrasts deeply with the fair-handed approach adopted by Mr Low Thia Khiang in the recent Palmer episode.

Mr Low did not take the opportunity to put down the PAP or engage in mud-slinging, but highlighted Mr Palmer’s contributions to Parliament as Speaker, and expressed regret that such an incident had occurred. Mr Low was scrupulously fair to all parties concerned and did not seek to score cheap political points on the back of the personal crisis of another human being.

This is what politics can — and should — be.

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