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Raeesah's resignation will stem damage to WP's reputation caused by episode, say observers

SINGAPORE – The Workers’ Party (WP) had come under criticism after its MP Raeesah Khan admitted to lying in Parliament, but her resignation on Tuesday is expected to stave off further dents to the party’s standing, political observers said on Wednesday (Dec 1).

They added that the party is not yet in the clear, as there is still an ongoing parliamentary investigation into the erstwhile Sengkang GRC MP’s conduct.

The WP announced that Ms Khan had resigned from the party and stepped down as an MP on Tuesday before the party’s top decision-making body met to decide her fate.

Ms Khan had admitted on Nov 1 to lying in Parliament about the details of a sexual assault case that she alleged the police had mishandled.

She had recounted how she saw a rape victim driven to tears by a police officer’s comments, during an Aug 3 speech in Parliament. But it turned out she never accompanied the victim to a police station.

National University of Singapore political scientist Elvin Ong and Institute of Policy Studies deputy director of research Gillian Koh told The Straits Times that Ms Khan’s resignation would help to mitigate the impact of her misconduct on the WP’s standing and credibility.

Said Assistant Professor Ong: “I think it was the right decision for her to resign. It shows that she was willing to take responsibility and be held accountable for her actions.”

Describing the resignation as the “most helpful outcome” for the WP, Dr Koh said: “It is a move that reduces the political liability of Ms Khan’s lapse in judgement.”

“She did not have to offer to resign but she has, and it is the most helpful outcome for the WP under the circumstances. It is quick, it is neat, and it is final,” she added.

Even then, the party is not out of the woods, said Singapore Management University law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan, pointing to the ongoing investigation into Ms Khan’s conduct by Parliament’s Committee of Privileges.

She was referred to the committee by Leader of the House Indranee Rajah, following her Nov 1 admission.

Prof Tan said the scrutiny will now shift to how the WP leaders handle the situation.

To impress upon Singaporeans that the WP upholds high standards of conduct for its MPs, the party will have to “state unequivocally what it knew of Ms Khan’s allegations before she made her speech in Parliament on Aug 3 and what it sought to do after she made those allegations”, he said.

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Though WP chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh had denounced Ms Khan’s conduct, and the party had also set up a disciplinary panel to look into the issue, some, like former WP Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, have asked how the party leadership could have allowed Ms Khan’s lie to persist for a few months.

After Ms Khan had first recounted the case on Aug 3, she had been asked for more details by Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Tan. On Oct 4, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam again repeated the request, saying the police had checked their records and found no cases that fit Ms Khan’s description.

Ms Khan declined to provide details both times, saying she did not want to re-traumatise the victim.

Prof Tan said: “Ultimately, the party cannot wash its hands of the Ms Khan debacle just because she has resigned from the party and her MP seat. The party may well be implicated for not appropriately guiding her and not doing enough after the allegations were made.”

Ms Khan’s departure from the Sengkang GRC team also leaves it with three MPs – Ms He Ting Ru, Mr Louis Chua and Associate Professor Jamus Lim.

Assistant Prof Ong and Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst with management consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, said this means the GRC’s remaining MPs will have to work harder to ensure constituency services are not disrupted.

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Dr Koh suggested that the party is likely to ask one of its minority MPs from Aljunied GRC, such as Mr Faisal Manap, to pitch in with the Sengkang GRC team, in particular Ms Khan’s ex-ward, Compassvale.

Dr Mustafa said: “There is more than enough time for WP to regain the confidence of Sengkang residents before the next general election, contesting in this GRC by having an advantage as the incumbent.”

The observers also said they did not think that Ms Khan’s resignation would trigger a by-election.

Prof Tan and Dr Koh cited how a by-election was not called in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC after Madam Halimah Yacob, then an MP, stepped down to contest the 2017 presidential election.

“For a by-election to be triggered in a GRC, all the WP MPs in Sengkang will have to resign their seats,” said Prof Tan. “The party has indicated in their statement that this will not happen as they are making provisions to ensure that Compassvale residents will not be affected by Ms Khan’s resignation.”

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