by Remy Choo
GE 2020 was supposed to be the election of unity of purpose and generational change in the face of Singapore’s worst crisis since independence.
On the People’s Action Party (PAP) side, the 4G leadership was supposed to take the reins of a more diverse, confident, open-minded PAP Government. On the side of the parliamentary opposition, Pritam Singh took over as leader of the Workers’ Party (WP). Pritam staked out a firmly pro-Singapore stance when he affirmed in Parliament during the COVID-19 debates that partisan politics should take a backseat to combatting COVID-19. As recently as June 9, DPM Heng commended Pritam and the WP for their position.
We saw glimmers of what GE2020 could be with the PAP roll out of a slate of PAP candidates from diverse backgrounds, and a promise to keep the campaign focused on the issues of health and jobs. Instead, on Day 6 of this campaign, something much darker is happening.
More than half a dozen POFMA directions have now been issued, and police reports have been filed against a 26 year-old WP candidate for old tweets. A police report has been made, and a public apology has been given. Given that the matter is under investigation, the appropriate thing to do should be to re-focus on the issues and let the electorate be the judge the weight to ascribe to this incident.
Instead, the PAP has dug in, and its partisans have now followed suit. There is now a drumbeat of suggestion that Raeesah Khan, a racial minority, is racist. There is also an increasing subtext behind this suggestion that the WP leadership, led by Pritam Singh, condones racism.
Singapore has seen this type of electioneering before.
In the 1997 elections, WP candidate Tang Liang Hong was labelled an “anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist”. The WP eventually lost Cheng San GRC, the GRC Tang was running in, by less than 5%. Tang eventually left the country and was bankrupted.
But this is 2020. And our moment in history is different.
Whichever party you support, we have a collective decision to make about Singapore’s future and the type of politics that we believe in. It is a serious choice, and one we need to make in the face of an unprecedented threat to our country’s future.
Against this backdrop, we can choose the politics of police reports, of weaponizing racial differences, and the presumption that those on the other side of the aisle act dishonestly and in bad faith.
Alternatively, we can choose a politics that focuses on overcoming the challenges we collectively face, at a moment in history that will make or break us as a country. We can choose to face the challenges of tomorrow together, regardless of party political affiliation, and regardless of who wins or loses this election.
It’s not too late to make this choice.
In the last 4 days of this election, we can continue valuable conversations about a minimum wage or a progressive wage model. We can continue talking about how to strengthen Singapore’s resilience to crisis management. We can debate how best to create permanently equitable landlord-tenant frameworks and relationships, and how to build a lasting social safety net for workers who will be retrenched.
Or, we can continue talking about Raeesah Khan.
The PAP will win its strong mandate, with or without keeping Raeesah Khan in the headlines for the next few days. Any electoral gain that PAP hardliners perceive from this incident will be vastly outweighed by the divisions this incident will unleash.
In the most consequential election of our lifetimes, these are divisions Singapore cannot afford.