By Carrie Tan, MP for Nee Soon GRC
The entire Raeesah Khan incident is very sad, not least because a young woman whom I personally know and have been a friend to suffered greatly in the process, but even more so because of how many citizens’ faith, especially that of the younger generation has been shaken.
Our faith has been shaken, on three important causes that many Singaporeans care deeply about – women’s development, mental health, and a healthy democracy for Singapore.
On the cause for women, women’s groups and activists are disappointed with what happened and do not condone what Ms Raeesah Khan did. But I believe in our hearts we share a common sympathy for her plight and what she went through, as a result of trauma from sexual assault.
The setback on the front of sexual assault survivors’ credibility due to Ms Khan’s actions, I believe we can repair and recover from, as women’s movements always do, because women will persist in this cause. Indeed, when I take a positive view, the light being shed by this saga on the debilitating effects of sexual violence can inspire more care and sensitivity in society towards survivors. When we know more about something that someone faces, we can always choose – we can choose compassion and care, over doubt and stigma.
And secondly, because of this high profile case, the average citizen in Singapore is now much more aware and conscious of psychological terms like “trauma”, “dissociation”, and how insidious and harmful the long-tail effects of sexual violence can be.
The integrity in leadership
What I find more critical to address, is the question of integrity in leadership, and what it means for Democracy to Singaporeans, and a credible Opposition.
Mr Pritam Singh has failed his first important test as Leader of the Opposition – I was hoping that he will be able to fill the shoes of Mr Low Thia Kiang, and help build a credible Opposition.
For all the soaring rhetoric about democracy and the importance of having a strong opposition in Singapore, Mr Pritam Singh has failed democracy in Singapore.
He failed democracy by a failure in leadership, the way he handled the entire matter.
And it was through one simple act that he failed this faith – that of throwing Ms Khan under the bus.
He could have supported Ms Khan in her confession right from the get-go. He could have saved Ms Khan’s political career. He could have told her to come clean immediately. He could have established Workers’ Party as a credible party that valued integrity and discipline, by immediately establishing the truth and supporting Ms Khan to admit the truth in Parliament.
But he didn’t.
Instead, it appears to me that when the facts came out, he cast doubt and further tainted Ms Khan’s honour by using the tragedy she experienced against her, and using mental health to suggest she lied. It looks to me that he did this to try and get out from the jar of pickles he found himself in. In doing this, he sullied and set back the efforts of many who have been working very hard towards de-stigmatising mental health.
It looks to me that Mr Pritam Singh failed in a moment that required courage.
The manner in which we choose to advocate matters
He has also failed the faith of many people who supported Workers Party, by being the exact opposite of what they were championing in the areas of women’s development and mental health.
There are people in both parties who are from non-governmental organisations backgrounds, who care about the marginalised, and are passionate champions for those who have less voice.
I am one of them.
But I believe the manner in which we choose to advocate matters.
I believe there is a way for divergent views to be shared and included in decision-making that is constructive and effective. But it takes more work, and requires more patience. It requires having faith and building faith in the people whom you work with in the system, and taking a collaborative, rather than adversarial approach.
While many who are passionate about causes and impatient for change often see the need to voice out for those who fall through gaps in society, we must be careful that we do not make false accusations or allow our sense of righteousness to cloud objective reality.
I see first-hand the insidious effects of trauma that causes a “victim mindset” in individuals. A victim-mindset creates the illusion of constantly being bullied and victimised, even when the objective facts state otherwise. It creates a cycle of blame, accusations, shame, retaliation and perpetuates a cycle of distrust. It advocates the use of “us and them”, it pits people against one another.
Politics that exploits this victim-mindset in individuals, and use rhetoric to fan the fire of distrust is dangerous for any society.
The role of a healthy, strong Opposition
A healthy and strong opposition is one that brings up possibilities to add to the perspectives of the incumbent, not one that pits people against one another. Challenging the status quo to push for change can be done without perpetuating distrust, or perpetuating falsehoods. When there is too much distrust between governments and their people, societies descend into anarchy.
Trust is the critical foundation for the social compact between government and its people for a country to work. We need a strong social compact for democracy to work. I believe it’s possible for a healthy opposition that challenges the perspectives of our government, and makes the government relook at gaps which it may miss. But we must weed out lies, falsehoods, and lack of integrity from our system, because these things undermine trust, and undermine the very foundation we need for democracy to work.
The Opposition must be one that challenges the system not by perpetuating cycles of blame, shame and falsehoods, but by honest checks on the system, backed by facts, due process, and personal integrity.
I hope that many savvy and passionate young Singaporeans will continue their advocacy for the causes they believe in. I hope they continue to be interested in politics, and that they will be concerned and discerning about the truth in politics.
Cover photo credit: Carrie Tan Facebook and Parliament of Singapore Instagram