SINGAPORE - The controversy that led Mr Ivan Lim to withdraw his PAP candidacy for the general election is a "regrettable" episode, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Sunday (June 28).
But, he added: "What is important for us is to focus on the key issues ahead as we set out in the PAP manifesto, which is about our jobs, our lives and our future."
Speaking to reporters at a walkabout in Sengkang, he said Singapore is facing enormous challenges ahead and it is important to bring everyone together to deal with these decisively and effectively.
"Because, as I said, the agenda is not just about the next few months, the agenda is about the years ahead. Which is our future, the future of our children," he added.
Mr Heng also said the PAP will review the incident and other issues after the general election, as is the party's usual practice.
His remarks come a day after Mr Lim's departure was announced by the PAP in the wake of online allegations about his past conduct and behaviour.
Party activists grew concerned that the issue would cast a cloud on the ruling party's campaign for the July 10 election.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, in acknowledging it, said Mr Lim did the responsible thing by withdrawing.
"He recognised the controversy around his candidacy was threatening to eclipse and distract us from the serious nature and the serious issues that we have to confront during this election and during this crisis," Mr Wong told reporters at a walkabout in Woodlands Street 31, in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, where the minister is helming the PAP team.
"It is a very difficult and painful decision for him, but it is a responsible thing that he did."
But the 42-year-old's decision will allow voters to focus on how candidates plan to help Singapore deal with the wide-ranging fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, he added.
Mr Lim, the specialised vessels general manager at Keppel Offshore & Marine, had responded to the criticism levelled against him in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
Later that evening, the PAP announced that he had written to the party's secretary-general, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to withdraw his candidacy.
Mr Wong acknowledged on Sunday that the character of candidates is a serious issue.
"The public will want to scrutinise all our candidates - that's fair - and they will scrutinise opposition party candidates as well," he said.
"We do not have any reason to believe that these allegations are true, but we do not have the time either to mount a full investigation."
He urged people to give Mr Lim and his family time, space and privacy to recover from the incident.
Mr Wong also said the PAP has a "rigorous and robust" selection process, in response to a question about comments made by Progress Singapore Party member Lee Hsien Yang on Saturday.
Mr Lee, the estranged younger brother of PM Lee, had said the controversy raised questions about the selection of candidates.
Said Mr Wong: "No process is perfect, no candidate is perfect, but we stand by our selection process.
"It is a selection process that has thrown up many good candidates over many years and in this particular election."
He urged voters to focus on what is at stake for the election, saying: "It's about candidates who are standing for election, but it's also about jobs or livelihoods, it's about how Singapore can overcome this crisis. And I think that should be top on our minds."
Mr Wong also addressed the question of how he has been juggling his time between campaigning for the election and managing the pandemic as co-head of the Covid-19 task force battling the virus.
"The task force continues to meet... It just simply means I am busier than normal," he added.
"I hope residents understand that part of my time will also continue to be focused on managing the work at the task force which is critical, and we will not do anything less on that front."