Singapore’s Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer has resigned and will leave the ruling People’s Action Party today after admitting to an extramarital affair.
Palmer, 44, said he made a “grave mistake” of improper conduct after being involved in a relationship with a member of a government agency who worked in a district he used to represent. His resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said that lawmakers must uphold the “highest standards of personal conduct.”
The exit leaves a Parliament seat vacant and will trigger a by-election that may be a test of support for Lee’s government as it contends with the developed world’s second-highest inflation, voter discontent with immigration policies and a slowing economy. The affair is the latest high-profile scandal in the city following the prosecution of former heads of the anti-drug agency and Civil Defence Force for allegedly accepting sexual favors in return for contracts.
“I have resigned to take full responsibility for a grave mistake that I have committed,” Palmer said in a statement. “My conduct was improper and it was a serious error of judgment. I have resigned in order to avoid further embarrassment to the PAP and to Parliament.”
The speaker of Parliament presides over the sittings by lawmakers. Palmer was the eighth speaker of Parliament when he was elected in October 2011 for the position, according to the Parliament’s website.
Palmer is married with one child, according to his profile page in the Parliament website. He became a member of Parliament or MP in 2006 and is a partner in Singapore law firm Harry Elias Partnership LLP. There is no change in his role and position at the company, said Philip Fong, managing partner at Harry Elias.
“It is necessary that all PAP MPs and advisors to grassroots organizations uphold the highest standards of personal conduct, especially in dealings with constituents, grassroots activists and staff, and that the party be seen to hold its MPs and advisors to these standards,” the prime minister said in a letter to Palmer accepting the resignation, and posted on Lee’s Facebook page.
Politicians in Singapore compete in single-seat wards or multiple-seat districts called Group Representation Constituencies. The party that gets the most number of votes in a district sends all its members in the group to Parliament.
As Palmer represented a single-seat constituency, Lee must call for a by-election. He won the Punggol East district with 54.5 percent of valid votes cast in last year’s election.
Singaporeans in the Hougang district voted in a by-election in May this year after a member of Parliament from the opposition was expelled from his party for “indiscretions in his private life.” The Workers’ Party retained the seat.
The Workers’ Party, the only elected opposition in Parliament, said today it’s ready to “offer a choice” to voters as it urged Lee to call for a by-election as soon as possible. Its candidate for Punggol East garnered 41 percent of votes in the 2011 poll.
Any by-election won’t change the balance of power in the government. Before Palmer’s resignation, Lee’s party, which has governed Singapore since 1959, has 81 of the 87 seats.
A majority of residents in Hougang surveyed by the Today newspaper in the run up to the May by-election said they were looking at national policies, including the cost of living and the influx of foreigners even as candidates campaigned on local issues such as public housing.
The next by-election “could be a mini referendum on things that have happened in Singapore over the past few months in respect to rising prices, transportation breakdowns,” said Terence Lee, who teaches politics at the National University of Singapore.
The island experienced its first strike in 26 years last month when dozens of Chinese bus drivers refused to go to work over a pay dispute, resulting in disruptions to public transportation services.
The economy is forecast by the government to grow at the slowest pace in three years in 2012. Prime Minister Lee has raised foreign-worker levies and salary thresholds to cool the inflow of non-Singaporeans after the island’s population jumped by more than 1.1 million since mid-2004, driving up property prices and stoking social tensions.
The PAP was returned to power in May last year with the smallest margin of victory since independence in 1965 and record opposition gains, prompting the prime minister to pledge his party will change the way it governs. In the past year, he has cut ministerial pay, accelerated construction of public housing and made permanent a program to provide cash, utility rebates and medical funds for the elderly and low-income households.
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