Things fall apart for Singapore’s Workers’ Party

DECEMBER 5 — Singapore’s Opposition Workers’ Party found itself under further pressure last week when it emerged that senior party members were aware that MP Raeesah Khan had fabricated a story she told in Parliament and encouraged her not to admit her lie but to stick to it. 

Raeesah, speaking on the subject of women’s empowerment, had detailed an incident where she accompanied a rape victim to a police station. 

She said she heard the police making derogatory comments about the victim. However, when questioned further about the incident Raeesah struggled to provide more details. 

Government MPs claimed that there were no police cases matching the description of the case she spoke about. Eventually Raeesah admitted that her story had been fabricated.

She said she had heard of a similar incident but she herself had never accompanied a victim or heard derogatory comments first-hand. 

Raeesah then faced an investigation by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee for making false statements in parliament. Facing an investigation and heavily criticised for bringing the Workers’ Party into disrepute, the young MP resigned from parliament last week. 

The Workers’ Party must have hoped this would bring an end to this damaging saga but the situation has instead deteriorated further. Speaking to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee, she has now said that senior party members including Workers’ Party leader Pritam Singh were aware of her false statement and encouraged her to continue in the lie. 

This fundamentally undermines the credibility of the whole party and its leader. This is a shame as the last few months and years had been very successful for the Opposition. 

They hold an unprecedented number of seats in Parliament and Pritam as Workers’ Party leader was designated the official leader of the Opposition with many of the privileges reserved for a Cabinet member. 

Again, unprecedented in Singapore’s history. 

The next move for the Opposition leadership is unclear. — TODAY pic
The next move for the Opposition leadership is unclear. — TODAY pic

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As the Workers’ Party went from strength to strength, more Singaporeans began to see them as a real alternative to the entrenched PAP government. But now the whole party and the broader movement to move Singapore towards a truly plural democracy faces a crisis.

The government will, of course, seize on Raeesah’s admission and the idea that the Opposition party leadership was in some way complicit. 

They will use this to reinforce their position that the Opposition doesn’t have the talent, credibility, or maturity to lead Singapore. 

The next move for the Opposition leadership is unclear. Will they deny encouraging her to hide the truth, or will they admit to it and face the consequences? There are already calls for Pritam to resign on account of his handling of the situation.

It is safe to assume the ruling PAP and its affiliated media and social media channels will be relentless, and it is hard to see a good outcome for the Opposition at the moment but the Workers’ Party has recovered from setbacks before. 

The mood on the ground with regards to severe inequality, Covid-19 restrictions and fatigue after years of PAP rule remain favourable for the Opposition. 

And it is unclear how much this scandal will really damage their position on the ground, but one way or another it will reduce the momentum and goodwill built up over the last few years. 

For a very rare moment, Singapore’s beleaguered Opposition seemed to be on the front foot but now once again they must hunker down and defend themselves against a government that has proved unassailable in the nearly 60 years since independence.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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