Was newbie candidate Ivan Lim such a precious and irreplaceable find that the People’s Action Party would persist in fielding him despite allegations about his character? Especially at a time when the ruling party seems to be trying very hard to shed its elitist, hard-as-nails and group-think image – and claims it has a thorough multi-stage selection process, including tea sessions, to pick its candidates for diversity, talent and integrity.
We know the answer now. A big NO. He has decided to throw in the towel, even before the battle has begun. Good for him. But not so good for the PAP’s much-touted harvesting net. It has holes.
Lim, 42, general manager at Keppel Offshore & Marine, was introduced as a PAP candidate on Wednesday June 24. Since then, Facebook posts have appeared which cast doubts over whether he should be a candidate seeking a place in Parliament, not to mention being an office-holder.
They accused him of being arrogant, elitist and even “two-faced”. The posts centred on Lim’s attitude during his military service and at Keppel Shipyard. The writers of the posts identified themselves and one, allegedly a sergeant-major under Lim’s command at a reservist unit, said: “Feel free to reach out anytime. I would ask for our conversation to be put on record and made available to fellow Singaporeans given we both recognise the importance to verify the character of candidates.” His posts have since been taken down.
But they were damning.
When they first appeared, Lim did not immediately respond. Bad sign.
PAP vice-chairman Masagos Zulkifli attempted a Sandiwara elak reaction with this statement: “I think it is not a moment in in their career, or their time with people that define them, but as a person throughout their life, and also an opportunity, if they have done something in the past, to redeem themselves.” Roughly translated, I take that to mean: “Forget the past, kawan, he’s a changed man now. Or is he?”
Next, sensing a brewing storm which may derail the PAP electioneering train, party first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat, also 4G PM-designate, quickly came out to address the accusations.
He said: “I have emphasised that integrity and character are very important in our candidates. If there’s any complaints, it should be properly clarified. So I would like to see Ivan himself coming out to clarify these comments so that we can hear both sides of the story. It is important that we take this seriously.”
After a couple of days and only after the concerns were addressed by the two Cabinet ministers did Lim break his silence.
One or two other accusations may have been spurious and far-fetched and can be dismissed, although they do add to the cloud of doubt. The ones most Singaporeans were interested to have Lim’s quick reactions to would be about his alleged elitist and show-off character.
He chose to throw smoke by talking about two things way off the super busy online chatter radar.
He spoke about his mother: “It is important for me to do so as my family is affected, in particular my mother.” As Madame Ho Ching, the mother of all mothers, would say: “Errr.”
And he denied anything to do with a Brazilian bribery case. Again: Errr. That’s off tangent. I have every confidence that aspect of his background would have popped up in any check or screening done by the establishment. That is the sort of skeleton the PAP would not have left lying in the cupboard in its search for candidates. That’s suicidal.
He came out as self-righteous and dismissive when he addressed the real damaging accusations about his character. Basically, he tried to portray himself as a tough, act-by-example and misunderstood leader.
Perhaps in the army, forceful leader attributes could be tolerated, indeed, arguably necessary and even admired. But the political arena is not the army. You battle for hearts and souls.
If you are a particularly brilliant achiever or a visionary, like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, you may also get away with arrogance or lack of empathy for lesser beings in your quest for success. Lim is no Jobs or Musk. He is dispensable.
The group-thinking current 4G leaders themselves do not possess anywhere near the (now we know and appreciate) world-class calibre of Lee Kuan Yew and his team. Unable to inspire anyone, they are simply struggling to connect with voters.
Can they even afford to carry problematic candidates who will become a liability before the starting gun is fired?
GE2020 is supposed to be all about engagement and empathy in a new caring Singapore society. All I can say is the Opposition would have been ecstatic if Ivan Lim had stayed on as a candidate. They would have had a field day.
(Sense And Nonsense will not appear in its regular weekly slot during GE2020. Comments by the writer will appear separately in reaction to developments in the election.)
Tan Bah Bah, editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader of The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.