What’s in a scandal?


As a foreigner in Singapore I find the recent Aljunied-Hougang Town Council affair quite interesting to follow. I won’t pretend I understand all the nooks and crannies of the Singapore GRC/Town Council system, but I do think it’s a positive development that issues such as political influence, conflict of interest, and responsibility with citizens’ money are openly discussed in the media.

Case in point, the fact that there are now talks to revise the way parts of this system work to avoid future misunderstandings. As citizens, it is our responsibility to ask questions, regardless of the political party that runs the town council.

One of the most telling aspects of this whole thing is the fact that when I talk about this with my Singaporean friends they automatically go into political disillusionment mode: “ah, whatever, politicians are all the same anyway!” or “doesn’t really matter, in the end it’s all about money!”.

It’s funny that whichever the party affiliation, people seem to automatically link politicians with suspicious ulterior motives, even when there’s nothing to be suspicious about.

In France, where I used to live before moving here, people are even wearier of politicians’ actions and intentions.

In fact, I’d say they actually enjoy looking for conspiracies and imagining hidden agendas.

When Rachida Dati, the young and flirty Minister of Justice, announced her pregnancy, theories abounded on the identity of the father. Not only because she was tied to many powerful men who could turn her political career around, but because she was suspected of using her pregnancy for ulterior political motives that would allow her to push her way into the mayorship of Paris’ chic 7th arrondissement.

Another story making its rounds around cynical French commenters is Bertrand Delanoe’s hidden “gay agenda”. The Mayor of Paris has always been open about his homosexuality and for the most part the French are quite indifferent to politicians’ private lives. But the recent divisive debate on gay marriage and Delanoe’s budding Presidential ambitions have led some people to tie the two together and suspect him of having used the immensely heated debate as part of a larger strategy to conquer the electorate’s heart instead of genuinely pushing for equal rights.

Last but not least is the whole Gerard Depardieu scandal. What started out as a strange media spat between the actor and the Socialist government over the amounts rich people were to be taxed ended up taking large and strange proportions. Depardieu is now living in Russia and has been called everything from a traitor to one of Putin’s puppets.

This entire saga then sparked debate on French leaders’ and influencers’ responsibility towards other citizens, on how they had to set the example. This then led to unprecedented outrage when it was revealed that one of Francois Hollande’s Ministers had undeclared bank accounts in Switzerland. All of this was aggravated by the fact that the Minister lied about his finances and then later admitted he’d lied. This then led the government to order all Ministers to publicly declare their earnings and estate to avoid hiding anything from French voters.

All of these examples show that there are indeed many instances of politicians lying and cheating. What else is new, right?

But they also show that making tenuous links between issues and affairs can sometimes lead to incomprehensible situations in which neither the political parties, nor the governments, and much less the citizens end up winning.

That’s why I always approach these kinds of stories with cautiousness; it’s perfectly all right to discuss such matters, and even necessary for a healthy and mature democracy. But jumping to conclusions without having all the facts is usually counter-productive.

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