Commentary: Pritam Singh and Workers’ Party can weather the storm, with Low available as a super substitute

Despite Pritam Singh’s charges, WP will most likely emerge with credibility intact

If Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh’s performance during the Committee of Privileges hearing is any guide, you can expect a spirited and testy defence in court by the Leader of the Opposition on two charges of lying to Parliament.

During intense questioning by Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong nearly three years ago, Singh was in a fighting mood; he hit back with gusto and never gave an inch to the interrogator.

Some of his words still ring in my ear:

“Nice try, Mr Tong.” 

“You can’t bind me with a piece of sewing thread, because that’s what it is.”

It is a complete lie.

Pritam Singh at Committee of Privileges hearing. Source: govsg on Youtube

It was like watching a court drama on TV.

Expect Singh to give another gutsy display as he fights to keep his political standing intact. 

But what many must be looking forward to is the appearance of former WP Member of Parliament Raeesah Khan in court, and how she will be grilled by Singh’s counsel.

This is especially when political observers felt she was treated somewhat gently during the Committee’s hearings.

Ultimately, the case will rest on these words that Singh was alleged to have said in his conversation with the former MP — that he will “not judge” her

Ms Khan had interpreted this to mean that there would be no judgment if she chose to stick with her narrative rather than come clean.

Raeesah Khan at Committee of Privileges hearing. Source: govsg on Youtube

Singh said he meant he would not judge her if she took “responsibility and ownership” of the issue. He also denied that he had told her to take the lie “to the grave”.

WP still enjoys strong support

Whichever way the court ruling goes, the bigger story is what it will mean for the brand of the WP and that of Singh. 

The man has walked a clever line between attacking the Government and supporting it. His focus has been on continuing former WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang’s approach of being a responsible Opposition party.  

Whichever way the wheels of justice turn, the smart money is on the Opposition party riding out the storm without too much of a dent on its credibility and popularity. 

The naysayers will wait to see if cracks in the party are emerging and then decide how to act.

The ruling party is on tricky ground. The mood in Singapore is different from the one when the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ruled with an iron fist. Voters took the bitter medicine thrust down their throats by an uncompromising and fearless Lee. 

The situation today is very different. Press too hard and the pushback from Singapreans can hurt the ruling party’s politicians at the next elections; take a soft approach and party hardliners may not be happy. 

The Opposition party is in a different world. One example is the long-running Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) saga, where the party was pushed to the corner with accusations of conflict of interest in awarding the main contract to one of its own people. 

Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang, and Pritam Singh respond to media queries in 2017. Source: The Workers’ Party on Youtube

Long story short, the owner of its managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), Danny Loh, was the secretary of the town council, with the power to co-sign cheques, while his wife How Weng Fan was the general manager of AHPETC.

The case went to court and the party raised more than S$1 million from its sympathisers over a couple of days to fight the case. 

At that time, Mr Low was in charge and his decision in 2011 to leave his stronghold in Hougang to contest in Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was seen as one of the biggest gambles in Singapore’s political history — and something that needed to be supported.

After all, when WP won Aljunied, it was historic — the first time an opposition party seized a GRC from the People’s Action Party (PAP).

Should Pritam Singh fall, Low is available as a guardian angel

Brand Pritam, however, is in unpredictable territory. 

His choice of Ms Khan has cast doubts on his decision-making skills, with some observers even questioning if he had rushed into fielding her in the last elections.

Ms Khan ticked important boxes with her gender, religion and work in the social sector, making her a prized catch. However, honesty and integrity are the most important criteria in politics. The former Sengkang GRC MP failed miserably in those departments. 

Source: Workers’ Party on Facebook

Both WP and Singh have a guardian angel on their side. Mr Low is there to rescue them if the unthinkable happens. In football parlance he is a super sub who gets into the match to rescue a team in trouble. 

A WP insider shared with me that Mr Low had told his close supporters when he announced his retirement that returning to play a role is out of the question. But then it is unthinkable that Mr Low will let the party he revived — and made less confrontational — decay and disappear.

Now for the populist question. Is this prosecution timed with the General Election (GE) in mind? I have my doubts. 

The case can drag on with the trial proper and possible appeals could last beyond November 2025 — the deadline for the next GE.

PN Balji is a veteran journalist and former editor at TODAY and The New Paper, with more than 40 years of experience in the newsroom.

Also read: Pritam Singh pleads not guilty to 2 charges of lying to parliamentary committee in relation to Raeesah Khan case

Pritam Singh pleads not guilty to 2 charges of lying to parliamentary committee in relation to Raeesah Khan case


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