Top image: YouTube (Ministry of Communications and Information)
In discussing the issue of Raeesah Khan’s recent parliamentary debacle, we need to firmly and decisively separate the act (the lie) from the issue (poor handling of sexual assault reporting) that is raised. Any attempt at deciding which is more pertinent and needing immediate attention is futile. They’re both important, and they both deserve equal airtime.
Still, what has transpired this week is by no means a reason for SPF or anyone, for that matter, to appeal to ignorance. One untruth does not ameliorate anecdotes of the poor handling of sexual assault cases by women who have since taken to social media to air their grievances. Their voices should be heard, whether it be vis a vis robust sensitivity training for the authorities or by carving out proper systems and channels that allow survivors, at the brunt of poor handling of cases, space and time to report negligence. In that regard, the system has failed the survivors of sexual assault and must be immediately rectified.
When it comes to the unfortunate case of Raeesah Khan, opinions on consequence split into two camps; those who argue for her to gracefully step down as MP and others who think she should stay and bear the brunt of her untruths. The former is swift and effective—an infallible move that dutifully reflects the severity of the action. It also sets a valuable precedent for both the ruling party and the opposition in how similar misbehaviours should be dealt with in the future.
However, quitting doesn’t and shouldn’t put an end to Raeesah Khan’s act of service as a member of the opposition. She’s still free to walk the ground, engage in consultation work with NGOs that will affect real change and pulpit on the rostrum of social media.
Still, what we would lose with Raeesah Khan’s resignation is the precious, precarious voice of youth on the nation’s biggest political stage—at 26, she was the youngest elected MP in the history of Singapore politics. Stepping down would also mean the loss of a spokesperson for challenges faced in a new and uncertain world rife with problems at intersections of issues that require a more modern mind to untangle.
I also mourn the descend of a young Muslim woman who, since her election into Parliament, has been very vocal about her views on polygamy and female genital cutting, issues other women MPs—Malay/Muslim or otherwise—within the ranks of the ruling party deign to bring to fore.
And then there’s the dissenting minority who opine that quitting is too easy a route out for a mistake this far-reaching. “Stay,” they commanded. “She needs to learn to live with the consequences and gravity of her actions and make amends.” The caveat here is, of course, that those amends must be made publically and in full view of the nation.
In a Facebook post, former Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh added that “she should serve out her elected term going 100% into serving communities, families, and individuals QUIETLY (sic), no social media posting or posturing, so that the focus is on those she served and not herself.”
However, this approach of not demanding Raeesah Khan’s resignation might put a dent in the Workers’ Party reputation as an opposition party that upholds integrity above all else. The party’s public relations machinery must spin precisely and incisively for this strategy to work, failing which might cause the ruling party to paint all future opposition parties with the same broad brush. It’s a road I would highly caution.
A smaller sub-set in this camp implores grace and forgiveness, compassion and empathy, all arguments I reject on the onset due to the entitlement and standing accorded to a member of parliament, who, by all accounts and purposes, are hardly representative of ordinary citizens. They should and must be held to higher regard—a standard we ought to demand equally across both parties in Parliament.
There’s a peculiar and deafening silence from the PAP that looms ominously over this cloud of opportunity. It’s quiet, but it is also rife with strategy, I reckon from a communications expert who recommends staying out of the fray so that full attention can be given to the Workers’ Party and how the leadership would handle this debacle.
As of 3 November, aside from being taken to task by the Parliament’s Committee of Privileges, Pritam Singh has also announced the formation of a disciplinary panel from within its ranks headed by himself, Sylvia Lim, and Faisal Manap. As both groups get to work deciding the fate Raeesah Khan would face, eventually, tempers would calm, and time would heal all wounds.
What was once today’s front-page news gets pushed further down as more current COVID-19 related news take centre stage. With attention diverted to other more pressing issues, it gives all affected parties time to reflect on what to do and avoid knee-jerk reactions simply to placate an observing audience.
Still, as a proud card-carrying, WP voter, and long-serving resident of Sengkang, it brings me no joy to say that Raeesah Khan should step down. It would be the right, and honourable thing to do so as not to smear nor tarnish the good reputation the Workers’ Party have worked so tirelessly to earn.
Opposition supporters such as myself have watched in exasperation, previous leaders of WP being ruthlessly admonished in Parliament and mocked in national papers for being so bold as to speak against the ruling party. We’ve read reports of Sylvia Lim being harangued relentlessly in 2018 by K Shanmugam, Heng Swee Keat, and Grace Fu to apologise for alleging that the government was floating ‘test balloons’ regarding issues pertaining to GST.
Sylvia Lim refused, which prompted the Leader of the House, Grace Fu, to remark that she was “deeply disappointed” with Ms Lim’s “deplorable” conduct and the “low standards” set by her and the opposition party.
We must also acknowledge the efforts of Mr Low Thia Khiang, Workers’ Party’s 9th Secretary-General for 17 years who, in his lifetime, paved the way for the opposition party to grow from one seat in Parliament to the current ten gained in the previous election.
Raeesah Khan’s victory, in a manner of speaking, was as much her effort as it is for the many men and women before her who worked tirelessly to prove their worth as a credible opposition party to PAP.
To not admonish her actions and hold her accountable would do the work of these political veterans grave injustice. They stood at the rostrum of Parliament and endured patiently as they were bullied, rebuked, and too often berated by members of the ruling party. All that work only to have reputations flushed down the drain by one over-zealous MP who thought it acceptable to lie in Parliament not once, not twice, but three times.
Still, many are optimistic about Raeesah Khan’s future—they cite youth as the reason for a longer runway in politics. Unfortunately, there are no second chances in politics. This was the only opportunity to prove herself worthy of the mantle bestowed upon her. Winning Sengkang GRC on citizens’ votes such as myself was her golden ticket into politics and a chance to do right by the many who are marginalized and in desperate need of representation in government.
Her resignation, while effective, is but one small step out of many that the opposition has to take to rebuild confidence and present themselves as a credible and worthy alternative to the ruling party.
Future politicians, from whichever side of the aisle, should do well to remember that Parliament is not an extension of the social media space. These hallowed halls are where words above all else—actions, intentions, spirit—matter. Parliament, if it lives up to its raison d’etre as the nation’s highest political body, should strive, at its utmost, to convince, convert, and contextualise without fear or favour. Anything short of these lofty ambitions is unacceptable and must be taken to task—no matter how well-intentioned their objectives may be.