DEC 19 — Politics is an interesting game. The last few weeks have seen Singapore’s opposition Workers’ Party plunged into crisis.
A few weeks ago, it was revealed that Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan had fabricated an incident she mentioned in parliament.
Speaking about the need to reform the Singapore police force’s treatment of female victims of sexual assault, she mentioned she had once accompanied a victim of rape to a police station and seen firsthand how the police mistreated the victim.
This story turned out to be false. Under questioning, Khan admitted it was a lie and subsequently the young MP resigned.
However, the government — believing the matter of the false statement had to be investigated further — summoned the Opposition leader for questioning by the Parliamentary Privileges committee.
The purpose of the questioning was to find out whether Pritam Singh was complicit in allowing the false statement to be made in parliament.
The whole incident cast doubt on the credibility of the Workers’ Party which had previously been faring remarkably well.
Holding a record nine seats in the 104-seat parliament, there was anticipation of further gains in future elections and the party’s leadership seemed to be doing a good job of holding a government unused to serious opposition to account.
The scandal surrounding Raesah Khan’s lie, however, threatened to undermine all that progress.
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has long argued that SIngapore’s opposition does not have the competence or experience to run the country and Khan’s lie played perfectly into that narrative.
She came across as irresponsible and immature.
Things looked grim for the Workers’ Party but then — interestingly — sentiment on the ground shifted.
The government seems to have overplayed its hand. Opposition leader Pritam Singh was subject to nine hours of questioning over the incident.
The duration and approach of the government minister – Edwin Tong — who led the questioning seems to have irked a large number of SIngaporeans.
Much of the proceedings was broadcast and for those without the patience to watch nine hours of questioning, segments were turned into short Tik Tok clips.
It is clear Pritam fared remarkably well under hours of questioning. He remained very consistent and clear headed. Admitting that a lie had been told by an MP but insisting that the party leadership had no knowledge of the falsehood, he countered Tong’s points effectively and calmly and Tong increasingly began to look like he was badgering Pritam.
In one exchange, Tong said, “You appear to know your positions well, Mr Singh.” To which Pritam responded, “Well, I am leader of the opposition.”
This exchange has gone viral and Pritam’s “Well, I am leader of the opposition” and several other ripostes have become memes and many are taking it as an example of confidence and composure under pressure.
A lot of praise and admiration have been focused on his capability as a politician.
Singaporeans online seemed to question the need for such a long questioning over the statement of an MP who had herself already resigned.
Such heavy-handed efforts to discredit the party and its leadership over Raeesah’s statement seemed to many neutral observers to be overkill.
Of course it is understandable the PAP wants to make political capital out of Raeesah’s error but it is surprising that the manner in which they handled the questioning ended up generating at least some sympathy for the opposition.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.