Analysts: Raeesah Khan’s resignation will take some heat off Singapore’s Workers’ Party, but party leaders still under scrutiny

Dr Jamus Lim, Raeesah Khan and Chua Kheng Wee thanking party volunteers after leaving the Workers’ Party headquarters in Geylang July 11, 2020. — TODAY pic
Dr Jamus Lim, Raeesah Khan and Chua Kheng Wee thanking party volunteers after leaving the Workers’ Party headquarters in Geylang July 11, 2020. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Dec 2 — The resignation of Raeesah Khan from the Workers’ Party (WP), which will see her giving up her parliamentary seat, will take some heat off the opposition party, political observers and analysts said.

However, it is unlikely to be the end of the matter, given the scrutiny on how WP leaders have handled the episode and the conduct of the Member of Parliament (MP) of Sengkang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in this instance, they added.

Associate Professor Eugene Tan, who teaches law at the Singapore Management University (SMU), said: “The party cannot wash its hands off the Raeesah debacle just because she has resigned from the party and her MP seat.

“The party may well be implicated for not appropriately guiding her and not doing enough after the allegations were made by Raeesah.”

This scrutiny may not just be external, but also within the party. WP cadre member Daniel Goh, who once served as a Non-Constituency MP, has said on his Facebook post that “many inconvenient questions for the WP leadership remained unanswered”.

Nevertheless, some residents of Raeesah’s Compassvale ward interviewed by TODAY said that her resignation will provide some closure to the controversy.

WP said on Tuesday (Nov 30) that Raeesah had told party chief Pritam Singh of her intention to resign that afternoon, and she repeated the same to WP’s central executive committee (CEC) at its meeting that same evening. The meeting was to discuss the recommendation of a disciplinary panel that the party had formed to look into her conduct.

Raeesah’s resignation came a month after she admitted in Parliament that she had lied about the alleged experience of a sexual assault victim.

In August, she told Parliament that she had accompanied the person to a police station and then alleged that police officers had treated the victim insensitively.

She later admitted that she had fabricated this account and had only heard about it from someone at a women’s support group that she attended.

The WP MP claimed that she did not want to say at the time that she was attending the group session because she was a survivor of a sexual assault herself and “did not have the courage to publicly admit that I was part of it”.

What Sengkang residents say

Some Sengkang residents who live in Raeesah’s Compassvale ward said that her resignation would be for the best as it “provides a closure” for those involved, even though concerns of a by-election still linger.

Business manager S Rajendran, 42, applauded Raeesah for taking accountability for her mistakes.

“When people called for her resignation, as a Sengkang resident, I wished she did not concede as she was a breath of fresh air. But she has my respect for paying the price for what she did,” he said to TODAY.

Rajendran added that the opposition party had been transparent over its handling of the situation.

“The resignation also shows that the party holds people accountable, especially its own members.”

Marvin Poh, a 40-year-old communications manager, said that it was “strategic” for Raeesah to resign because she would have been a “deadweight” to the party.

“If the person is still there, it is open to other people to scrutinise you or your organisation. If this person is not credible, whatever is mentioned, people will not believe. Especially in politics, you can’t have that kind of individual represent your team or party,” he said.

There were also residents who said that Raeesah should have been penalised for her mistakes and discharged from her role as an MP.

Evelyn Lim, a part-time early childhood lecturer, said: “I can only speculate that she resigned as MP because she could not look Sengkang residents in the eye after she lied in Parliament.”

The 41-year-old added that the responsibility of an MP is a mammoth one. Hence, expectations of MPs are also higher.

“That’s why I feel that she should have been discharged rather than allowed to resign.”

However, Poh said that Raeesah had taken responsibility for her mistake by choosing to step down and that the residents should move on, while WP continues working on delivering their promises to voters.

Compassvale residents largely feel that a by-election is not necessary.

A 57-year-old retiree, who wants to be known only as Ho, said that the WP team won the last General Election “fair and square” so it would be unjust to call for a by-election.

“They just need to find her replacement as soon as possible so that it will not affect us residents.”

Impact on party’s standing

WP’s leaders may be under scrutiny, but political analysts agree that the party’s standing will not be severely affected by the controversy surrounding Raeesah.

Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of Nanyang Technological University’s School of Social Sciences said that this was an individual mistake on Raeesah’s part and not the party’s.

“There is not much that they could have done, beyond the first time or the second time they just ask Raeesah, ‘Raeesah, did it really happen?’ (And she said), ‘yes’. What else could they have done?” Asst Prof Walid said.

Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, said that Raeesah will continue to be a political liability to the party if she had stayed on, regardless of the outcome of the probes by Parliament’s Committee of Privileges or WP’s own disciplinary panel.

“They are trying to minimise any knock-on effect to the WP brand,” Koh said.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah had earlier raised a complaint to the committee to look into Raeesah’s conduct after her lying admission, and this investigation will still continue despite the WP MP’s resignation.

Analysts also said that the party’s actions were swift and strategic.

Assoc Prof Tan from SMU said that Raeesah’s resignation is a “plus” for the WP, or else she would have been the “lightning rod” for the party for the rest of this term of Parliament.

“That potentially means WP being subject to heavy scrutiny. More crucially, it could distract from the WP’s legislative agenda. It is also hoping that the decisive action will take the oxygen out of this issue,” he added.

Future implications

While this setback is not going to “severely dent” WP’s standing, Assoc Prof Tan said that the focus may shift to the party and its leaders, who will have to co-operate with the Committee of Privileges’ investigations.

WP will also have to prove to Singaporeans that the party upholds high standards of conduct in its MPs, by stating what it knew of Raeesah’s allegations before her speech in Parliament, as well as their actions after she made them.

“Khan’s resignation may well be the least of the WP’s concerns for now in this sad episode With the WP’s Pritam Singh as the Leader of the Opposition, there is the imperative to demonstrate unequivocally that the WP is equal to the task of upholding the integrity of Parliament and its members,” Assoc Prof Tan said.

Former nominated member of parliament Calvin Cheng said on his Facebook page that WP needs to be questioned on what it knew about the lies, when the party knew about it and what it did with the knowledge.

“It’s incomprehensible that nobody else knew anything before Raeesah made the admission in Parliament,” he added.

Also posting on Facebook, WP’s cadre member Goh said: “Timing is everything. Why resign now one month after the parliamentary apology and just hours before the CEC meeting when the disciplinary committee findings were to be discussed and a decision taken?

“Did Raeesah know the outcome already? How? What motivated her to resign only now? Did anyone of importance ask her to resign and why?” — TODAY

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