SINGAPORE - Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has long prided itself on its high ethical standards but two political entanglements within a week have some wondering if the party's reputation of "whiter than white" stands.

Within days, Singaporeans were shocked to be told that the transport minister had been arrested in connection with a graft investigation, and then that two lawmakers, including the house speaker, were stepping down because of an inappropriate relationship.

The incidents came after two cabinet ministers were cleared of wrongdoing in June in their rental of state-owned property.

Analysts said the events may not bode well for the PAP, which has ruled Singapore uninterrupted since 1959.

While the troubles are not expected to bring the party down, they could dent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's legacy and cast a shadow on a delicate leadership transition and upcoming presidential election. Singapore's next general election is in 2025.

Scandals are rare in Singapore where the repudiation of corruption has been a core principle since founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew took office in 1959 dressed with his team in white and vowing that leaders must be "whiter than white".

Ministers are paid more than S$1 million ($757,300) a year to discourage corruption and attract the best and brightest.

Until last week, the most recent graft case involving a minister was in 1987 and the last resignations of members of parliament were in 2012 and 2016.

"These events appear to have created some public speculation about the PAP's approach to privilege, restraint, and authority," said National University of Singapore political scientist Chong Ja Ian.

The government did not respond to requests for comments.

The party responded by emailing Reuters a four-minute video clip from a press conference that Lee, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, held on Monday to address the resignations of the two members of parliament.

When asked about the developments, Lee said: "From time to time these things happen. When they happen, we have to make sure we deal with them and deal with them rigorously as well as transparently and everybody can see that we are doing that."

"No system can be completely infallible. You appoint people, sometimes things go wrong," Lee added.

Minister of Transport S Iswaran has been put on leave. He has not commented publicly.



PAP leaders have promised transparency.

Prime minister-in-waiting Lawrence Wong said the government would be forthcoming about the corruption case - even if the information was damaging or embarrassing.

Still, many Singaporeans have been poring over the details and raising questions on social media.

During his press conference, Lee said he knew about the relationship between the two parliamentarians in 2020, leaving many wondering why they were stepping down now.

Questions have also been raised about why it took until July 14 for authorities to say Iswaran had been arrested on July 11 when the investigation was announced on July 12.

"Establishment voices often claim that delays in disclosure or decision-making by opposition parties at moments of crisis suggest indecisiveness or even dishonesty," said Chong.

"Yet, in this case, descriptions of Mr Lee's handling of the case by similar voices point to gentleness and human-ness."

Chong said he thought Lee's legacy could become associated with these events as he nears the end of his term.

But political scientist Walid Jumblatt Abdullah at Nanyang Technological University said Lee had enough political goodwill to ride this out.

Gillian Koh, who researches governance and economy at the Institute of Policy Studies, said: "While there may be misdeeds, more important is how these are established and what sort of recovery the PAP makes. This is what matters for the future."

Walid said the incidents could be more contentious for Wong and his so-called fourth generation of leaders now taking over. Questions could also be raised about ministerial salaries, he said.

"If you're not preventing corruption, then does (such a high salary) still serve its purpose?," said Walid.

"People will be asking: Is the PAP which Lawrence Wong is inheriting, is it the same PAP as in the 1990s or even early 2000s?"

(Reporting by Xinghui Kok; editing by Robert Birsel)