An End To The Committee Of Privileges
The COP conclusion paints Pritam in a really bad light.
If you had just read the findings without watching the hearing, Pritam appears to be shifty, contradictory, evasive and seem to be a clueless leader.
But one should put his statements in context of a 9 hour long hearing, under intense questioning by Edwin Tong.
In the hearing, it seemed that Pritam conceded several contradictory points out of exhaustion or frustration under the aggressive questioning by Edwin Tong.
Taken out of context, on paper, these contradictions work to the PAP’s advantage. It allowed the COP to build a case that Pritam was trying to mastermind a cover up.
A criminal mastermind?
But the logic of a cover up has an Achilles heel.
Because there’s no credible evidence that Pritam ever explicitly told Raeesah to cover the lie up.
Despite trawling through thousand of pages of evidence, there were no WhatsApp screenshot, email documents or audio recording of Pritam ordering anyone to hide the truth.
There is one evidence provided, which is a second hand account by Raeesah that Pritam told her to take it to the grave. But Raeesah’s credibility is doubtful.
Having said that context matters, one should also look at Pritam’s actions and words separated from his eloquence.
There’s no way to sugar coat this. Pritam made horrible decisions as a leader. While there’s no physical first hand evidence of telling Raeesah to take it “to the grave”, his inactions and inability to order Raeesah to tell the truth speaks poorly of him.
Waiting for Raeesah to tell her parents, caring for Raeesah’s feelings etc, no matter how hard Pritam tries to climb up the moral high ground, all his efforts have been futile.
Crafting a Narrative
How did the COP arrive at the conclusion that Pritam was attempting a cover up?
The COP maintains that Pritam, through inaction and vague instructions, was by default, asking Raeesah to cover up the lie in parliament.
They point to the contradictions by Pritam in the 9 hour arduous hearing as proof that he was dishonest.
Interpretations of evidences such as “told you it was your call”, “I will not judge you” are done in favour of building this narrative.
To be fair, the report is pretty convincing. Thousand of pages were spent carefully crafting and weaving this story.
However, because there’s lack of a smoking gun, you could also build a convincing report in 1000 pages that Pritam did not want a cover up.
Why was he vague, unclear and contradictory? Because he was an inept leader. Because he thought he was already clear. Because he thought Raeesah knew he expected her to tell the truth. All of these different conclusions can be substantiated with the current evidence.
Indeed, the lack of a smoking gun is the elephant in the room at the moment. The COP’s finding feels incomplete without it.
Perhaps, that could be also part of the reason why the COP recommended the referral to public prosecutor.
One thing we can all agree on, Pritam did not provide leadership when WP needed it the most.
Not directly ordering Raeesah to clarify the truth immediately once he found out, is a mistake that should have severe penalties.
On top of that, he allowed things to drag on for so many months. He waited for Raeesah to tell her parents while the integrity of the police and parliamentary institutions were at stake. This alone should call for questions on his judgment.
There are too many examples that we can point to over the course of the hearings that puts Pritam in a bad light. But that would be repetitive.
I guess it’s worth reiterating that Faisal came across as clueless and inept as on paper in the special report, and on camera during the hearing.
Faisal needlessly incriminated himself for seemingly no reason.
The COP has every right to ask for information such as meeting minutes and schedule.
Why did Faisal decide there and then that he had to refuse? Your guess is as good as mine.
The cynic would say it was an inept attempt at hiding evidence. The supporters would say he was standing up to the bullies.
But I think most Singaporeans would just be scratching our heads at this futile attempt at something.
Which is regretful, by all accounts he abdicated his role as a leader in dealing with Raeesah's lie. That would be almost entirely bad for him as a leader.
Possibly, the only upside to this is that he could have pleaded ignorance and escape responsibility and punishment. But alas, somehow he still got himself into trouble.
If there was somebody else in WP who had been digging his own grave beside Raeesah from the start, it would be Faisal.
Liberal progressive ideas are attractive.
Especially in the social media age, showing off liberal ideas is the easiest way to virtue signal. Or more simply put, it is the easiest way to get likes and shares on twitter.
But a social media savvy charlatan can easily ride on these ideas and expouse them in a way to get political support.
With Raeesah, I feel that we have dodged a bullet. At least she was exposed and caught early in her career.
If she had gotten away with this, it might embolden her to build a political platform based on lies and perceived outrage.
Trying to become a hero by inciting outrage is never the solution.
Fruitful discussion based on facts and truth will help us achieve progress for the minorities (sexual assault survivors in this case) in our country.
Lies on the other hand, cause doubt and mistrust to seep in, it makes Singaporeans suspicious of each other resulting in infighting to our detriment.
Make no mistakes, her lies were aimed not to unite Singaporeans together. She was seeking to divide us from one united people, based on (perceived) injustice and inequality, so as to achieve progress for her goals.
Past history suggest to us how things would end for the opposition. I’m sure Pritam is painfully aware.
A likely outcome is that he might end up getting fined more than 2k, which will result in him losing his parliamentary seat and barred from having one for five years.
The leader of the opposition and Secretary General of WP, without a parliamentary seat. This is effectively political exile.
Perhaps he would be fined less than 2k and be allowed to retain his seat. Either way the credibility of the position of leader of opposition is forever smeared.
What’s next for Pritam
It must have been a rollercoaster journey so far.
From leading the opposition to its greatest victory to having Raeesah singlehandedly bring everyone to its knees… sigh
Firstly, Pritam will need to fight an internal fire. Reports have came out about unrest in WP. A leadership challenge might come out of the blue in the next election (internal).
On the ground morale has taken a hit, volunteers are leaving WP.
Regardless of what happens in the Parliament, Pritam needs to reconsolidate support and power internally.
Alongside this effort, Pritam also needs to question how the Raeesah episode became the way it did.
There are many moments for introspection. But most importantly, Pritam should look at how so much power was centralised between Sylvia, Faisal and himself.
The CEC, despite its responsibility to provide oversight, only found out about the incident a few months after, slightly before the public. Why wasn’t CEC immediately made aware of such an important issue?
Perhaps if the CEC was more involved, things would not have ended the way they did.
Sylvia and Faisal seem comfortable in the backseat, not questioning Pritam’s decisions. This reeks of poor leadership and organisation structure.
Pritam should also evaluate the party’s internal process for selecting members. WP should be careful about fielding unready candidates like Raeesah Khan.
On the Bright Side
Ironically though, WP has also excelled at identifying talents.
Dr Jamus has came out of nowhere to dazzle and impress over the last year. And he was the only one from WP who came out of the COP hearing looking better.
Nicole Seah put up a strong showing in her maiden performance on WP and her team had a valiant effort against once potential PM Heng Swee Keat.
Meanwhile, members such as Gerald Giam and He Ting Ru are growing from strength to strength with experience.
A way forward?
I think it would make sense actually for Pritam to resign internally and seek a new election as the Sec Gen of WP.
It would show that he understands a mistake was made and he is not beyond reproach. If he wins, it will refresh his mandate internally, and increase the morale of volunteers on the ground.
Even if he loses, to be honest, he has still the best showing among all the other WP members, including Jamus. It wouldn’t be long before the position is restored to him.
Yes, it might look like a dog and pony show, but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Great heroes like Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill have compelling stories of overcoming failure to success.
Could Pritam similarly have a Singapore flavoured hero’s journey? I think the possibility is there.
Despite the mistakes here, he still has a sizeable base.
He is charismatic enough to garner support from the masses, and he has (relative) youth on his side.
LHL and 3G were never his true political rival. Pritam can bide his time to regroup and prepare for the long fight against the 4G ministers.
He has also proven to be a worthy opponent in elections, and should give the 4G PAP a good fight.
Also importantly, you could sense the political support leaning to opposition in the new younger generation.
What’s next for us?
There are other societies where politicians are building platforms based on untruths. We should be extremely watchful that we do not “import” such values into Singapore.
With that said, Singapore did great! No matter who you support, we as a country soundly rejected the lies of Raeesah and she was removed in a public and transparent process.
But there’s a creeping air of despair for opposition. The first ever leader of opposition has imploded. OYK, potential pm, came out to reiterate reasons why a two party system will not work in Singapore.
Despair can easily be massaged into anger by fringe politicians. Fringe politicians are… basically almost everybody not in WP at the moment. And it feels increasingly “fringe”.
PAP should be careful with how the situation will end.
Yes, the short term by product is that the biggest threat in the opposition was neutralised. But the long term cost is anger and frustration at a dominant party that feels increasingly out of touch with the people.
Intermingled with bread and butter issues such as inflation, a tough job market, bto unavailability/delays, global looming recession, increasing GST etc, voting opposition may present a Hail Mary option for undecided voters who are going to use their votes not to vote, but to voice their anger.