Weekend TODAY: What I meant by my silence: Low

LOH CHEE KONG
cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg

SWITCHING effortlessly between Teochew and Mandarin, Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang laughed heartily, listened intently and spoke animatedly at his Hougang Meet-The-People session on Wednesday evening.

For close to three hours, Mr Low attended to his residents.

However, he switched instantly to battle mode when this reporter, who turned up uninvited, asked him about the debate with the Prime Minister in Parliament last month on Mas Selamat’s escape.

“The question by the Prime Minister is an unnecessary question. I have not called for the resignation of the minister. Is that not an obvious answer to you?” he told Weekend Today.

The Workers’ Party chief had said he could not reconcile the principle of pegging ministerial pay to that of the corporate sector when ministers are not held to the same accountability.

But when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked him pointedly if his deputy, Mr Wong Kan Seng, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, should resign over the Mas Selamat fiasco, Mr Low – in contrast to his usual combative style – kept silent.

Why didn’t he point out to Mr Lee then that he was not calling for Mr Wong to resign?

“I’ve answered that. I thought it was an unnecessary question (by Mr Lee),” was his reply.

In fact, it was Mr Lee who had failed to answer his question on “minister responsibility vis-a-vis ministerial pay”, he pointed out.

Mr Lee had said that even in the private sector, lapses have to be seen in perspective. He had also said Mr Low was attempting to cloud the issue since the Prime Minister was given “full opportunity” to establish whether Mr Wong was culpable for the mistake.

Insisting that his question “had nothing to do with” whether Mr Wong should resign, Mr Low was puzzled why Mr Lee linked his question to the calls for Mr Wong’s head to roll.

Said Mr Low: “The Government uses the same principle (as the private sector) but different standards. Is that a case of double standards? That was what I wanted him to clarify.”

Still, the exchange – or non-exchange – made it to the front page of The Straits Times. It was further dissected and scrutinised not just in coffeeshop discussions, but on blogs and Internet forums.

While some netizens felt the episode had been blown out of proportion, others criticised Mr Low – and the effectiveness of Opposition MPs – for failing to take the Government to task.

Postgraduate law student Dharmendra Yadav wrote in Weekend Today last week that Mr Low, as an Opposition leader, “owes Singaporeans an explanation as to why he chose to remain silent in the face of an opportunity to be decisive and to show what a leader can and should do”.

“Why, Mr Low? Why?” Mr Yadav had asked.

But an academic, who did not want to be named, said: “Why what? It seems as if suddenly, Mr Low has a duty in Parliament to endorse the desire of those Singaporeans who want to see heads roll.”

Throwing his arms up and shrugging his shoulders, Mr Low said: “A lot of people are jumping up and down but I really don’t understand why.”

So, does he think Mr Wong should quit?

Mr Low said: “Well, the fact is that I have not called for the resignation of Wong Kan Seng … That is enough for me to answer you.”

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