Commentary: Will WP leaders’ doubling down on their positions on the Raeesah Khan saga pay off?


Those of us who expected thunder and lightning during this week’s parliamentary session on Tuesday (February 15) were not disappointed.

Leaders of the Workers’ Party (WP) have spoken out for the first time after the Privileges Committee (COP) published a report on the findings of its investigation into the lies told by former WP MP Raeesah Khan the last year.

WP General Secretary and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh went on the offensive, outright rejecting the COP report and saying it contained “numerous issues, gaps and omissions”, which by extension , suggested what he called “political partisanship”.

Party chairwoman Ms Sylvia Lim questioned the “exhausting” nature of the interrogations employed by the committee, while WP deputy chairman Faisal Manap dismissed the claim that he himself, Mr. Singh and Ms Lim had advised Ms Raeesah to continue lying to Parliament.

Parliament was debating two motions raised in relation to COP recommendations to fine Ms. Raeesah $35,000 for lying to Parliament and to refer Mr. Singh and Mr. Faisal to the prosecutor for possible breaches of the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took WP leaders to task in a 45-minute speech. He spoke about how a democratic system needs MPs with good standards and values ​​to function, the importance of public trust in government, and the fact that trust based on honesty is not negotiable for democracy to work well.

It was interesting to note that beyond passion and emphasis, there was not much new in the Working Group’s response to the COP report.

Indeed, it would appear that the three leaders who spoke, in particular Mr Singh, stood by earlier points – that at no time had they ordered Mrs Raeesah to lie and that he did not hadn’t tried to use his mental state to slander her. testimony.

In fact, he and Mr. Faisal had intentionally limited their comments on the CoP report, as they said they were ready to cooperate fully with the Attorney General in any subsequent investigation.

To use a popular in-game term, WP management opted to double down on their initial stance, instead of introducing new facets or information to bolster their case.

Some interesting potential results could arise from this strategy.

WIN-WIN?

Pro-opposition camps have insinuated that the government and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) sought to “fix” the opposition throughout this episode.

Such theories and rhetoric usually infuriate opposition supporters and can potentially reinforce a “martyrdom narrative”, where a lone hero or heroes stand against oppressive forces for a greater cause despite overwhelming odds and near defeat. certain.

This sentiment was expressed in Mr. Faisal’s speech, delivered in Malay, when he concluded with a short poem or pantun:

“Perajurit ke medan perdempuran

semangat berjuang demi kebenaran

Lumrah perjuangan perlukan pengorbanan

Hasil pengorbanan terlahir perubahan”

Translated, this means:

“Soldiers march on the battlefield

With the spirit to fight for the truth

The nature of battle requires sacrifice

From sacrifice, change is born”

Images of soldiers, battle and sacrifice in the name of change would certainly not be out of place in a martyr’s story.

And this strategy could pay off for WP in the medium term.

A further investigation will be conducted for the prosecution to decide whether criminal charges are warranted.

If charged, Mr. Singh will have the opportunity to defend himself in court and cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

If he is declared innocent, it would be a major victory for the WP and for himself as a politician.

If he and Mr Faisal are found guilty and the sentence imposed by the courts is severe enough for them to lose their seats in Parliament, it could prompt the rest of the GRC Aljunied WP team to resign strategically to force an election partial. in the GRC before the next general election.

This would pave the way for a “by-election effect”.

GRC voters, held by the WP since 2011, would be free to vote for the Opposition to act as a check on the ruling party, knowing full well that their by-vote will have no impact on who forms government.

It is also likely that the WP campaign would position the by-election as a referendum on the performance and policies of the PAP government since the 2020 general election – through the Covid-19 years and even up to the expected increase. goods and services tax.

Given that Aljunied GRC is a stronghold of the WP, the martyrdom narrative coupled with any by-election effect could even see the party improve its vote percentage in the last election of 2020 where it secured almost 60%. , itself a massive improvement on the narrow and biting victory he won in 2015.

Such a result could give wind to the WP sails, but to the detriment of its current leader.

WORRY IS THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN

Whatever the outcome, the coming weeks and months mark a difficult time for Mr Singh as leader of the WP and all of the opposition.

Beyond the impending legal proceedings, there is also the possibility of potential challenges to the party leadership by Mr Singh.

Such internal conflicts would not be new for the WP. Mr. Singh’s predecessor and WP stalwart, Low Thia Khiang, successfully rose to a challenge to his leadership issued by Mr. Chen Show Mao in 2016, the first time that had happened since he took office in 2001.

Prime Minister Lee said in his speech on Tuesday that Mr Low had been a formidable political opponent but also a patriotic Singaporean.

“He gave a different tone to the Workers’ Party. He said he hoped the Workers’ Party could help build a first world parliament for Singapore. He must be saddened that, instead, this is what his successor did,” Mr Lee added.

It should be noted that Mr Low has so far not openly expressed his support for Mr Singh, and instead said in a media interview last week that there was ‘a lot of talent’ in the party , so recent developments are not cause for concern. .

He also did not rule out a return to politics, saying only that it would be “up to the locals” to ask him if they wanted him.

During Tuesday’s debate in parliament, none of the other WP MPs spoke on the issue. It could represent a closing of ranks or a desire not to be dragged down with a potentially sinking ship.

Either way, it will be interesting to watch changes in the complexion of WP as we approach the next election in 2025.

Since 2018, Mr Singh has led the WP and the opposition as a whole to a new level in Singapore politics, as evidenced by his formal appointment as Leader of the Opposition.

What he does over the next three years can determine whether this progress is sustained or reversed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicholas Fang is a former appointed MP. He previously worked as a journalist for over 18 years and currently runs a strategic communications consultancy.

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