A step back for Singapore's Opposition?

·3-min read

NOVEMBER 7 — Most of the flurry of messages I received from friends and family in the past week used the phrase "unnecessary" when it emerged that an Opposition Member of Parliament had exaggerated, and fabricated part of a story she related in Parliament about the treatment of rape victims in Singapore.

In short, Workers’ Party MP Raeesah Khan had alleged that she accompanied a 25-year-old rape victim to a police station and that the police at the time had made derisive remarks about the victim.

However, when asked for more details about the story so her allegations could be investigated Khan was unable to provide more information.

Initially she said she wanted to protect the privacy of the rape victim. However, the government then responded saying no cases matching the one described by the MP existed on police records. Last week, Khan admitted she had not in fact accompanied the victim and that she had only heard the story secondhand.

The Workers’ Party has formed a disciplinary panel to look into admissions made by its member Raeesah Khan (pictured) who said that she misled Parliament over a claim.  —  TODAY pic
The Workers’ Party has formed a disciplinary panel to look into admissions made by its member Raeesah Khan (pictured) who said that she misled Parliament over a claim. — TODAY pic

The admission of this falsehood is a real blow not just to the MP herself but to the Opposition and this is what so many are responding too.

This unnecessary step back considering the Workers' Party has seen its fortunes rise over the past few months — making its best ever showing in the last general election.

Workers' Party leader Pritam Singh became the first Opposition MP in history to be recognised as the official leader of the Opposition. Heading a young and dynamic team, Singh seemed to be making real inroads challenging government positions in a coherent and competent manner.

The conduct of the Workers' Party challenged the government’s repeated assertion that Singapore doesn’t have the talent for an Opposition. The Workers' Party was now a credible alternative, not just a bauble to prove Singapore is a democracy.

But as Khan’s story fell apart, so did the Opposition’s credibility. The government is triumphant and openly gleeful. I would be too if I were them.

The government now has the ammunition to assert what it has always maintained that the Opposition is immature, unreliable, and untrustworthy — not ready to make recommendations on police reform, let alone run the nation.

Of course, this is unfair — after all, politicians of all stripes make a profession of being fast and loose with the truth to score points. Also, if we judged entire political parties by the actions of a single politician from that party we would not have political parties beyond a single term.

Finally, despite all the upset — the Opposition party has weathered a similar storm before. In 2012, Workers' Party’s Yaw Shin Leong was expelled after an extra-marital affair was revealed. A by-election was called, and the seat was won by another Workers' Party member.

So, more than about Khan — this is a test for Singh. The Workers' Party's strategic decision to co-opt the young, passionate Singaporean has paid off. Everybody remembers the Jamus Lim “cockles of my heart” memes.

They must continue doing this surely but the reliance on rabble-rousing cannot be the main thrust of this strategy. Frankly, I cannot understand why it needs to be — ultimately.

Khan’s fundamental point that police needs reform in terms of how it deals with victims of sexual abuse is valid. There was no need for rabble-rousing and now no one is going to remember the important point she intended to make.

All that will be remembered is that an MP was caught in a lie, and this is a blow both for the Opposition and for young women in politics.

Frustrating.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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