GE2020 Gaffes, missteps, and the art of the comeback (bouquets included)

(Left) Charles’ mandarin needs brushing up; (centre) Jamus impresses at the debate; (right) Mr Heng defuses viral gaffe

From East Coast plans to debate no-shows, let us review some of the greatest hits in GE2020 gaffes and communication missteps, thus far, and figure out what these politicians and parties did to turn things around.

  1. DPM Heng Swee Keat’s East Coast plans
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why is her mask upside down tho 👉🏻

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On course to be the mother of all gaffes this election campaign is DPM’s Nomination Day East Coast plan stumble. It has even been referenced in Malaysia tourism promotions:

It isn’t too surprising how Mr Heng could stumble over the words, when you realise what an absolute mouthful the name of the plan is: “Together We Care @ East Coast”.

Phote credit: George Yeo FB

I don’t recall Mr Heng ever trying to put out communications to put a cap on the viral gaffe. But Razer Inc boss, Mr Tan Min-Liang, did speak out for Mr Heng, saying that it is normal to stumble. It feels like someone at the Ministry of Communications might have pulled some strings to get the Razer boss to weigh in.

Mr Heng was eventually asked about his thoughts on the East Coast gaffe (4-minute mark of the Mothership video), I thought Mr Heng’s reply was not bad; he said: “What I think is important for us is to really focus on the key issues facing Singapore. Let us not get distracted.”

How DPM defused the East Coast plans ‘funny takes’ at the 4-minute mark

I think Mr Heng’s did alright in his response — a grade ‘B’. I’m not sure how he could have done any better to stop this gaffe from taking a life of its own on social media. But let’s see who did well next.

2. Minister Masagos: “… Mr Lee Hsien Yang, our prime minister…”

A near epic mistake by Mr Masagos, especially given the fact that it is the PM’s own brother who is certainly playing an outsized role to strike at the PAP’s super majority.

It was a simple mistake made understandable when Masagos pointed out how Mr Lee Hsien Yang was, in fact, his boss at Singtel. This post was a such nice light touch, where he even mentioned his son:

Late at night my son WhatsApp me:
“haha omg Ibak
the slip
but I think it will just be another laugh and forget moment la
Go Mr Massss”

Was too excited about my favourite topic on sustainability during the live chat and mis-spoke…LHY used to be my boss at singtel.

Good advice son!
Must focus on the tasks ahead!

Certainly, most would have forgiven the mistake when he explained it with humour. A grade ‘A’ for this deft response.

3. Reform Party’s lackluster showing @ the Constituency Broadcast

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where got time for e-learning 👉🏻

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This one is kind of shameful. How is the RP giving Ang Mo Kio voters any assurance when only 2 of 5 candidates show up for the Constituency Broadcast? Granted, one member is sick and another is serving Stay-Home Notice, but the picture just doesn’t inspire any confidence, does it?

And Charles’ butchering of the mandarin speech has been trending. I give props to Charles though; he was replacing his sick colleague for the task, and he was doing his best as time was running out. Mandarin is a tough language and many Singaporean millennials struggle with it, certainly with all the names and terms.

I don’t think Charles has responded to all the jokes and memes of his mandarin broadcast yet. So, I can’t grade the response, but Charles is law-trained and he is a lot more eloquent in English:

4.  Workers’ Party (WP) no-show at debate

MeWatch screengrab of the Channel 8 debate

WP’s no-show at the Channel 8 Chinese debate got some tongues wagging. Some were asking how the party of Chinese-speaking leaders like Low Thia Khiang and Chen Show Mao could missed sending in a representative.

In response, WP apologized and its leader Pritam Singh reportedly said they did not have at the time a member who possess the “quality of the proficiency required to participate in a live debate is of a higher order”.

I’d say the WP’s response was good. They came out and apologize for the no-show and gave an acceptable reason. It didn’t look like they were pushing away responsibility. So a ‘B+’ for WP.

5. Progress Singapore Party’s Dr Tan Cheng Bok: Vote P-A… P-S-P

The other big boo boo on Nomination Day was Dr Tan’s near slip. The difference between P-A-P and P-S-P is mere a letter, but what a gap in meaning. There were two instances that day when Dr Tan nearly said the wrong party.

Of course, Dr Tan is 80 and a former PAP member. I don’t believe he responded to the memes or videos; neither really made the viral impact as compared Mr Heng’s East Coast memes. Hence, no grading for Dr Tan.

Dr Tan’s remains very popular among a wide cross section of society, including even the Gen-Z. This is evident on Mr Tan’s Instagram page where he regularly interacts and collaborates with young Singaporeans.


Missteps asside, I would like to give special mention to WP’s Dr Jamus Lim and PAP’s Ong Ye Kung — both men won praise for their performance on the televised debates. Mr Ong’s eloquence in Mandarin really shone in comparison with his two opponents, who weren’t as coherent and had to consistently check their mobile devices for their talking points.

While Mr Ong’s response to queries lobbed in from his opponents were not that substantial, he did make poetry out of his answers. One blogger even made listed all 22 Chinese idioms and phrases that Mr Ong used.

For Dr Jamus Lim, he became the Singapore Internet darling following his performance at the English debate, where he is often cited for using the phrase ‘warm the cockles of my heart’. Netizens noted how this fresh face was able to faced up to champion debater, PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan. Here are some key moments, to wrap up this article:

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