Raeesah Khan saga: Several WP members, volunteers back party leaders amid disquiet over possible prosecution
SINGAPORE — Several Workers’ Party (WP) members and volunteers have thrown their support behind the party leadership, after Parliament voted on Tuesday (Feb 15) to refer WP secretary-general Pritam Singh and vice-chair Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor as recommended by the Committee of Privileges (COP).
- Several Workers’ Party members and volunteers TODAY spoke to maintained their support for the party leaders
- This is despite Parliament voting on Tuesday to refer WP secretary-general Pritam Singh and vice-chair Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor
- One former volunteer, however, agrees with the decision made by Parliament, and believes the WP leadership had thrown junior members “under the bus”
- Political analysts said Mr Singh's leadership appears to have continuing support
- However, they added that much will depend on how the trial plays out if the Public Prosecutor presses charges
- With the next General Election not due until 2025, this issue will be but one of many weighing on voters' minds when they head to the ballot boxes
SINGAPORE — Several Workers’ Party (WP) members and volunteers have thrown their support behind the party leadership, after Parliament voted on Tuesday (Feb 15) to refer WP secretary-general Pritam Singh and vice-chair Faisal Manap to the Public Prosecutor as recommended by the Committee of Privileges.
Most of the WP faithful TODAY spoke to — who mostly did not wish to be named — said they stand behind what Mr Singh and Mr Faisal had said during the privileges committee's hearings and in Parliament. One remarked that the party had been through “worse times”.
One former WP volunteer, however, said that she did not agree with how the leadership had handled the matter, and had thus recently decided to end her involvement with the party.
TODAY had approached a dozen WP members and volunteers supporters but many declined comment. TODAY did manage to speak to three members, one current volunteer and the former volunteer. Volunteers are not party members.
When asked, they were also divided on the possibility of former WP chief Low Thia Khiang returning to politics — a prospect that Mr Low did little to quell when he was asked by the media earlier this week.
On Tuesday, the House voted in favour of the committee’s recommendations that Mr Singh and Mr Faisal be referred to the Public Prosecutor to "consider if criminal proceedings ought to be instituted", due to Mr Singh's conduct during the committee's probe and Mr Faisal's refusal to answer relevant questions, the report said.
The House also voted in favour of the committee’s recommendation to levy a fine totalling S$35,000 against former WP Member of Parliament (MP) Raeesah Khan for lies she told in Parliament last year.
WHAT PARTY MEMBERS, VOLUNTEERS SAY
One party member of over 10 years said that he stood “strongly behind the party leaders” and rejected the recommendations of the privileges committee.
Referring to Ms Raeesah, he said: “Anybody with a logical mind will know that they cannot trust a compulsive liar in any of the words she says.”
Asked if he was concerned about the possibility of Mr Singh and Mr Faisal losing their parliamentary seats, he asserted that “it will not happen, because they told the truth”.
In Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Singh stated his intention to clear his name and to cooperate fully with the Public Prosecutor, despite having objections to the committee's report.
Mr Faisal similarly said that he would give his full cooperation to the Public Prosecutor.
He objected strongly to the committee’s findings that he, Mr Singh and WP chairman Sylvia Lim had advised Ms Raeesah to continue with her untruths.
Speaking to TODAY, WP member and former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong said that he also stands behind the party leaders.
Asked about the morale within the party, he said: “I am less active now in party activities but those I walk the ground with now are still as driven.”
He added that the party had “been through worse times”.
One such instance was former WP secretary general JB Jeyaretnam's disqualification from Parliament in the 1980s after he was charged with falsely accounting the party's funds.
“The question (back then) is whether the party survives,” said Mr Yee. "... I believe the party will survive (again this time).”
He said that WP had grown since the 1980s and there were many more talents within the party.
“No doubt the (committee's recommendations) are serious, and it might affect the WP, but the base is much stronger than before when it is dependent on one person (the late Jeyaretnam).”
One WP volunteer, who also did not want to be named, said that the party is “united” behind its leaders.
“Based on my interactions (with volunteers and members), things are as per normal, if you look at the MPs' (social media) posts, we are still doing our groundwork and it doesn’t show any disunity,” he said.
VOLUNTEER LEFT PARTY OVER EPISODE
Still, one former party volunteer, who had served the party for 10 years, said that she had left WP recently due to what she had observed transpire over the course of the privileges committee's hearings.
She had “lost faith” with the leadership as she felt that their testimonies at the COP were a “convenient way to throw (Ms Raeesah) under the bus”.
“(Mr Singh) is the secretary-general, he could have very firmly told her to tell the truth, or if she hadn’t, he could have spoken directly to the Speaker (of Parliament),” he said. “There were so many opportunities to do that over a span of three months.”
“To say that the MP needs to take responsibility for everything… it just conveniently throws her under the bus.”
The volunteer, who also did not want to be named, had concurred with the findings of the privileges committee, and believes that the entire process had shown how the party leadership had unfairly implicated junior WP members and volunteers to clear their name.
“What was most upsetting was the way that Pritam had completely thrown Pei Ying and Yudhish under the bus and alluded that they were not telling the truth,” she said.
Ms Loh Pei Ying, who was Ms Raeesah’s secretarial assistant, and Mr Yudhishthra Nathan, a WP volunteer, had testified to the privileges committee in December that the party leaders should have come clean earlier about their knowledge of Ms Raeesah’s lies.
Ms Loh, who had previously been Mr Singh's secretarial assistant, had also testified that she was disappointed Mr Singh had left the choice to Ms Raeesah on whether she should tell the truth if she was asked about the matter in the House on Oct 4.
In this regard, Mr Nathan felt Mr Singh was “rather indecisive”.
In its report, the committee said that Mr Singh had alleged that the two party members had a "skewed impression" and that they could have lied "out of loyalty" to Ms Raeesah.
"Pei Ying adored Pritam, to see him throw her under the bus like this is heartbreaking," the volunteer said.
PROSPECT OF LOW'S RETURN
WP members were split on whether former WP chief Low, 65, should return to politics given the present uncertainties facing the party.
Mr Low had first won a seat in Parliament as MP for Hougang during the 1991 General Election, and had served as WP secretary-general between 2001 and 2018, before being succeeded by Mr Singh.
Mr Low had said in a recent interview with Chinese-language publication Shin Min Daily News that it would be “up to the residents” to ask him if he should return to politics in the wake of the committee's recommendations.
One WP member, who has been with the party for more than 15 years, said that he does not support Mr Low’s return to politics, due to his involvement in the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) lawsuit.
In 2019, the High Court ruled that three then-Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MPs — Mr Singh, WP chairman Sylvia Lim and Mr Low – were liable for damages suffered by the AHTC, which is said to have made millions in improper payments under their watch.
“(Mr Low) has done a lot of damage to the party,” the member said. “He thinks that (Mr Singh and Mr Faisal) will be in trouble, so he can come back, but I don’t think the current members will like him to come back.”
Disagreeing, Mr Yee said that the AHTC suit is no longer on the forefront of people’s minds.
“If the AHTC suit was an important (consideration), the WP would have lost Aljunied in 2015 and 2020,” said Mr Yee.
“People who believe either side of the story have already made their decision, and it hasn't affected the people supporting us, or the election results.”
Mr Low had also said in the interview that there are “many talents in the Workers' Party” and the recent developments are not a cause for concern.
Agreeing, Mr Yee said that Mr Low had built a “capable opposition” and that many younger talented individuals within the party will be “able to rise up”.
“I hope it ends well for us, but even if it doesn’t, I don’t think the alternative movement can be so easily killed.”
WHAT ANALYSTS SAY
Analysts told TODAY that Mr Singh appears to have emerged from the saga with the support of his party still largely intact.
Dr Felix Tan of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said, however, that Mr Singh’s failure to take a stronger stand against wayward party member Ms Raeesah will still be questioned.
Assistant Professor of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Elvin Ong added: “Much will depend on how the trial plays out, if the Public Prosecutor indeed decides to press charges.
"At the moment, from a non-representative sample of the contacts that I know in the party, I believe that Pritam still appears to have the support of a significant portion of the party.”
Analysts also felt that it is too early to determine the impact of the issue on the next General Election, not due until 2025. Votes are rarely about a single specific issue, they added.
“So even if this saga has a short-term negative impact on WP's reputation, it is still unclear how this will affect voter opinion and attitudes over the longer term,” said Dr Ong.
Dr Walid Jumblatt Abdullah, another political analyst at NTU, when contacted by TODAY, referred to a post he had written on Facebook regarding the COP debate.
“To be sure, this is an episode the WP could have done without. But many said that about Raeesah part 1 too, and yet they weathered that storm,” he had written.
In July 2020, old social media posts written by Ms Raeesah became subject to police investigation, sparking a furore during the GE2020 campaign period. Despite this, her team went on to win Sengkang GRC.
Regardless of the short-term impact, analysts agreed that WP has their work cut out for them before heading to the next elections.
“While there is certainly a need for the WP to clean up its processes, they would also need to demonstrate to Singaporeans that it has the propensity to admit that there were some weaknesses in their system, but that they are also willing to change for the better,” said Dr Tan of NTU.
Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, said that deeper conversations with door-to-door constituents leading up to the next elections could be an “effective antidote to this sorry saga” for the WP.
But at the end of the day, when voters eventually reflect on this episode, it would all boil down to one thing, she said.
“The question is whether people feel that there was cognitive dissonance that the party that said it would check the dominant PAP did not seem to be able to be an effective check on itself, even if the leadership had been generous in allowing people to step up to do the right thing and correct deception.”