Source Asia Sentinel
SACRAMENTO, U.S.--It appears all but certain that later this week, Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party will succeed in crippling the 65-year-old opposition Worker Party with a recommendation that two of its leaders be referred for criminal prosecution over allegations they covered up a lie to parliament by a now-resigned party member.
The saga has presented the PAP with the opportunity to blunt the Workers’ Party’s decades-long march toward political viability. In the 2020 elections, the governing party won only 61.24 percent of the vote but retained 83 of the 93 parliamentary seats through skillful gerrymandering. It was the second lowest vote margin since independence in 1965.
As the party has appeared to be flailing, the government has pushed through an increasingly severe series of restrictions on freedom of expression, most recently through a measure last October aimed at “countering foreign interference in domestic affairs,” allowing authorities to order social media sites and Internet providers to disclose user information or block content that they deem hostile.
The government in 2019 also passed a “fake news” law empowering any government minister to declare that information posted online is “false,” and to order the content’s “correction” or removal if deemed to be in the public interest. The government has invoked the law repeatedly against people or publications that criticized the government or its policies, according to Human Rights Watch.
The vehicle to go after the Workers’ Party is a report to the Committee of Privileges which is to be debated this week and which recommends a fine of S$35,000 (U$25,977) for Raeesah Khan, who on August 3, 2021, rose in parliament to falsely claim that in 2018, she had accompanied a 25-year-old rape victim to make a police report, whereupon the victim was insulted by a police officer.
It later turned out that the 30-year-old Khan hadn’t accompanied the victim but had heard about it from a support group for women who had been victims of sexual assault, nor did she have the victim's consent to share the incident.
Seeking to capitalize on the situation, the government held a series of hearings in which opposition leaders underwent marathon grilling. In one, Pritam Singh was held on the stand to testify for a full nine hours, during which he was forced to acknowledge he knew she had lied but took no steps for three months to get her to correct the falsehood.
Since the 2020 election, the PAP has stumbled, although partly for reasons not its fault. Like the rest of Asia, Singapore has been hamstrung by the Covid-19 pandemic and a flagging economy, which is projected to grow at a tepid 3-5 percent for 2022.
The Workers’ Party officials have acknowledged that they knew of the falsehoods and kept silent for three months. One report said Singh had told Khan to take her secret “to the grave,” which Singh and Manap have denied.
In a prepared release, the party said it “notes these developments with grave concern. The last time criminal charges were brought against an elected Opposition MP relating to their political work was in the 1980s.”
As the release pointed out, “since its founding in 1957, The Workers’ Party has been through many trials and tribulations. We thank all Singaporeans who have supported us through the decades. We are confident that we will persevere and continue our mission of contributing to the building of our democratic society.”
In fact, critics say, the charges against the two party leaders hearken back to the 1980s, when Lee Kuan Yew pursued a vendetta against the party’s founder Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, using charges which were widely considered to be trumped up.
In practical terms, the affair could well also eventually cost the party it's Aljunied GRC, a five-member cluster in the northeastern and eastern region of Singapore that both Pritam Singh and Faisal Manap represent.
The Workers’ Party’s only hope is public antagonism over the PAP’s merciless bludgeoning of the opposition, one political figure told Asia Sentinel, “with such antics as Pritam Singh’s nine-hour ordeal in the witness stand over his role in Khan’s month-long delay in admitting her lie.”
“If there is a by-election, the results will be a litmus test of how Singaporeans feel about this saga, and whether there will be pushback and backfiring against the ruling party for what is perceived by some Singaporeans that there is bullying of the opposition,” said another Singaporean source.