Tan Chuan-Jin quits: Other Singapore politicians who resigned after their affairs came to light

Aqil Hamzah
The Straits Times
July 18, 2023

The spotlight has been cast on the private lives of politicians after Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and fellow People’s Action Party (PAP) MP Cheng Li Hui stepped down from their positions following an extramarital affair.

The two resigned from the party on Monday after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong found out in July that the pair had continued their relationship despite being counselled earlier.

That same day, the Workers’ Party (WP) faced a potential scandal of its own after a video that purportedly showed MP Leon Perera and senior party member Nicole Seah sharing an intimate moment was circulated online. The WP said it was investigating the video.

The Straits Times looks back at the cheating scandals that have tainted local politicians and how the parties dealt with them.

1. Yaw Shin Leong

What happened?

Rumours began circulating in January 2012 that Mr Yaw, then the WP MP for Hougang, had an affair with a married WP member. 

He was accused of having an illicit relationship with a married Chinese national who helped him in translation work for parliamentary speeches.

On Feb 7, 2012, Mr Yaw, then 35, quit his post as WP’s treasurer, but stayed on as a party member and MP. Neither Mr Yaw nor the party provided any explanation for his resignation.

How did the party deal with it?

Mr Yaw was expelled from the WP on Feb 15, with members of the party’s central executive council (CEC) – Mr Low Thia Kiang, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Gerald Giam – co-chairing a press conference that same day at its Syed Alwi Road headquarters.

During the press conference, the CEC said it had convened a meeting the night before and given Mr Yaw a chance to explain himself, but he failed to show up.

Combined with his repeated refusals to address the allegations, the CEC took a vote, with the majority opting for his expulsion from the party.

2. Michael Palmer

What happened?

As the first Eurasian to become Speaker of Parliament since independence, as well as being the second-youngest person to hold the post, it seemed that Mr Palmer’s political career was on the up and up.

But the then 44-year-old quit all his posts – including his Punggol East single-member constituency seat – because of an extramarital affair with a People’s Association constituency director in late 2012.

Mr Palmer, who is married with one son, was the first known PAP MP to resign because of an affair.

For more than a year, he was in a relationship with Madam Laura Ong, who worked in Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC and is 11 years younger.

She had married in March 2006, but separated from her husband two years later.

How did the party deal with it?

Mr Palmer informed the PAP about his extramarital affair on Dec 8, 2012, and offered to resign.

His resignation was accepted by PM Lee, who met him the following day. 

On Dec 12, 2012, Mr Palmer tendered his resignation, with then Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean chairing the press conference at the PAP’s headquarters in New Upper Changi Road.

3. David Ong

What happened?

The father of three entered politics in 2011 as the PAP’s oldest new face at 49 in that year’s general election, contesting in Jurong group representation constituency, where he was subsequently elected.

In 2016, the businessman, who was then the MP for Bukit Batok SMC, resigned from his role and the party over his “personal indiscretion”.

He was believed to have been in an extramarital affair with a grassroots activist in his ward, with the affair having gone on for at least six months. The woman was 13 years his junior and the relationship was exposed only after her husband complained about it.

He resigned on March 12, via a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, although no details were given about the alleged affair. More information emerged only in a news report by Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao that night.

How did the party deal with it?

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was deputy prime minister at the time, held a press conference less than an hour after Mr Ong resigned.

The news was described as “totally unexpected, very sudden”, with Mr Tharman saying that there had not been any rumours circulating before the 2015 General Election.

4. Tan Chuan-Jin

What happened?

Barely a week after a video emerged of the former Speaker muttering the words “****ing populist” following WP MP Jamus Lim’s April speech on helping lower-income groups, the former brigadier-general, 54, found himself embroiled in another scandal.

PM Lee revealed that the former Marine Parade GRC MP had been in a relationship with former Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui, 47, for some years, and that they had carried on despite both being counselled by the PM in February.

It is unclear when the relationship between Mr Tan, who is married with two children, and Ms Cheng, who is single, started, but PM Lee discovered it some time after the 2020 General Election.

How did the party deal with it?

Mr Tan and Ms Cheng were spoken to and counselled by PM Lee once their affair came to light in 2020, but remained in the relationship.

This led to PM Lee speaking to them in February again, when Mr Tan admitted to his wrongdoing and offered his resignation, which PM Lee accepted.

However, he instructed Mr Tan to ensure that residents in his Kembangan-Chai Chee ward and Marine Parade GRC were taken care of, with the additional instruction to Mr Tan to end his relationship with Ms Cheng.

Despite the repeated warnings, the relationship continued, with PM Lee coming across information that “strongly suggested” that they were still in a relationship.

He decided that Mr Tan had to leave, and the latter resigned on Monday, along with Ms Cheng.

A press conference was called that same day at the Istana, fronted by PM Lee.

The Straits Times

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