07/17/2023, 16.46
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Singapore’s ruling party in trouble over rare corruption case

by Steve Suwannarat

After coming under investigation, Transport Minister S. Iswaran has taken a leave of absence on instruction from Prime Minister Lee. A Malaysian tycoon involved in the case has posted US$ 76,000 bail for overseas travel. The People's Action Party, which has ruled the country since 1965, could suffer at the ballot box at the next election.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – For the first time in almost 40 years, Singapore is grappling with a major corruption case that could spell trouble for the ruling party.

On July 12, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong instructed the Minister of Transport, Subramaniam  Iswaran, to take a leave of absence.

A day earlier, an investigation was launched against the minister as well as Malaysian-born hotel property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, one of South Asia’s most influential businessmen and sponsor of the annual Formula 1 race in the small city state. He posted bail for S$ 100,000 (US$ 76,000) to continue his activities and travel.

Iswaran's case is the first high-profile graft probe involving a minister since 1986. The minister is said to be cooperating with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), but few details about the investigation have been made public. Further developments are expected.

In a country that prides itself for the quality of its elected officials, this comes as a jolt. Singapore in fact ranks fifth on the Corruption Perception Index, issued by Transparency International.

The country’s top officials are well paid to ensure that they are not tempted by other interests. Ministers earn about S.1 million (US$ 832,000) a year.

Iswaran, 61, was first elected to parliament in 1997, serving as minister since 2006. In his current capacity, he has played a crucial role in managing the pandemic and post-pandemic challenges.

In addition to the Transport portfolio, he also serves as minister-in-charge of trade relations at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Although no formal charges have been laid yet, the graft investigation is a major embarrassment for the People's Action Party, which has ruled the island nation since independence in 1965.

The party, which has always promoted the rule of law and commitment to the community, is now in hot waters at a time of difficult transition.

In the 2020 election, the party suffered its worst drop in voters’ support, which could make it harder for Prime Minister Lee to call an early election before the end of the current legislature in 2025 in order to capitalise on his commitment to lead Singapore out of the pandemic.

By contrast, having the legislature continue for two more years will likely be more advantageous to opposition parties.

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