Opinion: Will the Workers’ Party be done in by a “woke” member?

  • The word woke used to be just the past tense of wake. Today, it refers to being aware or well-informed in a political or cultural sense, describing the person as having “woken up” to social injustice.
  • Yet, Ms Raeesah Khan, a former woke member of the Workers’ Party, did more harm than good when she lied while challenging the long-held beliefs of the ruling party.
  • TheHomeGround Asia asks veteran journalist PN Balji to pen his thoughts on whether this will reverse the work of a credible opposition party.
At 27, Ms Raeesah Khan exploded onto Singapore’s political scene in June 2020 as the youngest-ever candidate fielded by the Workers’ Party (WP). She was then considered a political maverick; the first minority woman who took a rather outspoken stance against the incumbent mode of politics. (Photo source: CNA)
At 27, Ms Raeesah Khan exploded onto Singapore’s political scene in June 2020 as the youngest-ever candidate fielded by the Workers’ Party (WP). She was then considered a political maverick; the first minority woman who took a rather outspoken stance against the incumbent mode of politics. (Photo source: CNA)

I woke up to woke only just now. 

The word has been bandied about often but I have been against using it because I am an old-fashioned user of the English language who resists the use of new words when old ones can do the job. But then Raeesah Khan stormed into our consciousness and I had to get into this woke thing to understand what it all means.

Former member of the Workers’ Party Raeesah Khan, who is of the “woke” generation, campaigning during the 2020 General Election. (Photo Source: Raeesah Khan / Instagram)

The 27-year-old former Opposition lady lied in Parliament. That cannot be the trait of a person who is part of the woke generation. This generation, from what I have found out, believes in telling the truth. Not just that, but also standing up to truth and even exposing untruths.

Raeesah admitted to lying in Parliament about accompanying a woman, who said she was a sex attack survivor, to the police station where, the former MP said, the woman was treated insensitively. That admission came only two months after she had lied in Parliament and after some pressure from her party chief. 

She did a couple of things which were also not woke. She inserted the lie – that she had first-hand knowledge of how the survivor was allegedly treated in the police station – in a speech she was to make in Parliament. That speech – minus the addition – was sent to members to read. 

When Pritam Singh, the secretary general of the Workers’ Party (WP), looked at the speech after she had inserted that key paragraph, he wrote the word “substantiate” on the speech. She didn’t respond. This is not what a woke person would do.

Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh agreed at the Parliament’s Committee of Privileges on 15 Dec that some of his words to Ms Raeesah Khan could be interpreted as giving her a choice to admit that she lied or to continue lying. (Photo source: gov.sg)

The investigation by the Committee of Privileges exposed WP’s style of leadership. Pritam was not decisive enough to get Raeesah to confess in Parliament, his statements to her on what to do were at best not clear, and all this behind-the-scenes drama was happening while his party’s key members were kept in the dark. 

While we await the committee’s report, what impact it will have on Pritam and his party is the subject of coffee shop discussion. Will the WP leader’s position in the party be affected? There are already rumblings among party members. One anonymous member was quoted in Lianhe Zaobao as saying that Pritam will have to tussle with the issue of transparency. The next time he steps up to talk about government transparency, you can expect missiles to be thrown at him by his opponents.

And the bigger question: How will this affect his party’s chances at the next election, which has to take place in about four years. That is a long time in politics and is likely to be off many voters’ minds.

Another point is whether voters are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Pritam and say: WP is still the best Opposition voice in Parliament and we will vote for them to keep the ruling party in check.

But the damage Raeesah has inflicted on the party cannot be wished away in the immediate future. 

P N Balji is a veteran journalist in Singapore. He is also the author of the book, Reluctant Editor: The Singapore Media as Seen Through the Eyes of a Veteran Newspaper Journalist.

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