FEB 13 — So the leader of Singapore’s Opposition — Pritam Singh — faces the possibility of criminal prosecution. If found guilty, this may lead to him losing his seat or even jailed.
It’s quite an extraordinary development.
As Singapore’s first official leader of the Opposition, Pritam had enjoyed unprecedented success.
His Workers’ Party held nine seats in parliament, a record for the Opposition in Singapore. More progress had been anticipated but today the Workers’ Party is in disarray, with their leader and other senior members facing criminal prosecution.
Their distress stems from what can only be called Raeesah-gate.
Last year, Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan was found to have lied in parliament while making a statement on policing.
She had related an anecdote about a female rape victim being mistreated by the police. She claimed she had been with the victim and seen the police mistreat the woman concerned first hand.
It later turned out Raeesah had never accompanied the victim to the police station and had only heard the story of alleged mistreatment second hand.
Raeesah eventually admitted to the story being a fabrication. She was referred to the Committee of Privileges for both relating the falsehood in the first instance and for reiterating it when questioned by government MPs.
The committee also questioned senior members of the Workers’ Party — Pritam Singh, Sylvia Lim and Faisal Manap — as it was determined that as party seniors they shared responsibility for the junior MP’s false statement and her failure to subsequently retract the statement of her own volition.
The committee held extensive hearings on the matter. Many felt Pritam Singh fared well under hours of questioning. He refused to acknowledge wrongdoing on his part saying the matter had been Raeesah’s prerogative.
Raeesah resigned as an MP before the committee delivered its verdict.
But last week the committee released its recommendations which included a S$35,000 (RM108,800) fine on the former MP for lying in parliament.
Further, it recommended that both Workers’ Party leader Pritam Singh and vice chairman Faisal Manap be subject to investigation by the public prosecutor as their statements to the committee potentially contained untruths possibly amounting to perjury.
If the public prosecutor does initiate action against them and finds them guilty, they could face fines or jail time.
Even with only fines levied, Singapore law suggests an MP receiving a fine of over S$2,000 can potentially be stripped of his seat.
So again we have the real prospect of the Leader of the Opposition losing his seat in parliament due to criminal proceedings.
This is not the first time this has happened; famously the former leader of the Workers’ Party JB Jayeratnam was jailed and lost his seat in 1986 for misrepresenting party accounts.
In the end, no one ends up looking good.
The Opposition leadership was clearly sloppy for recruiting someone as careless as Raeesah Khan and then not being forceful in terms of guiding her speeches and responses in parliament.
Meanwhile, the government which is famous for taking a hard line with its opponents seems to be moving to launch criminal prosecution against Opposition leaders.
Ideally there should be a mechanism that resolves these matters without going down the path of criminal charges.
Ultimately of course it’s the citizens of this country who suffer.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.