SINGAPORE: Ms Raeesah Khan, the Workers’ Party (WP) candidate whose alleged social media comments are being investigated by the police for promoting “enmity between different groups”, said on Sunday (Jul 5) night that she regretted making “insensitive” remarks and apologised to those who may have been hurt by them.
The 26-year-old, who is the WP’s youngest candidate this General Election and part of the four-member team contesting in Sengkang GRC, said her “intention was never to cause any social division but to raise awareness” on a myriad of social concerns.
“I apologise to any racial group or community who have been hurt by my comments. My remarks were insensitive, and I regret making them,” she told reporters hours after the police statement was released.
“I feel really passionate about minority issues regardless of race and in my passion, I made improper remarks and I have to be accountable for them,” she said, adding that she will “fully cooperate in any police investigations”.
On Sunday afternoon, the police said that they had begun investigations after two reports were made against the WP candidate over the weekend.
The reports lodged were in relation to comments that Ms Khan had allegedly made on social media, which promoted “enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race”.
During her statement, Ms Khan was accompanied by party chief Pritam Singh, party chairwoman Sylvia Lim and her three running mates for Sengkang GRC.
Mr Singh fielded several questions from reporters.
When asked about the police’s statement, Mr Singh said that he does not want to “say anything which could be interpreted in certain ways” but this refers to a section of the Penal Code which “requires (one) to knowingly do something and (one) must have the intention of wanting to create this animosity”.
“ I think Raeesah’s statement has put into perspective her position on that,” he said.
He was also asked about the party’s position on the matter, to which he declined to comment, saying that the matter was under police investigation.
He also said that it would be “speculative” for him to comment if the matter would affect the candidacy of the team and how the party would respond to that.
“I understand investigations are still ongoing. So we have to allow that process (to) take its course,” he said.
As to whether this points to any failure in the WP’s candidate vetting process and whether he was aware of the online comments, Mr Singh said he was not aware but noted that Ms Khan was part of the generation that grew up on social media.
“For me personally, I don't encourage and would be actually a bit disappointed if our candidates would try to sanitise their past, and I think they should be upfront and authentic to the public. This is who they are.
“And in the event there are certain posts or certain comments that they may have made which are untoward, then I would expect them to explain themselves,” he said.
“That's how I think that generation who has lived on social media from the adolescent years would have to understand the difference between what you do on social media and what happens when you move into the public realm.”
Mr Singh elaborated that as part of the WP’s candidate selection process, it considers whether the individual is able to connect and empathise with the public.
He noted that Ms Khan has been working the ground for about a year, and has undertaken every case she handles at the Meet-The-People session “very seriously, regardless of race, regardless of religion”.
He added that these are important criteria when considering someone for candidature.
“So I've got no regrets for fielding a candidate who is like them, who is prepared to walk with residents and solve the problems and issues. I think that’s an important criteria which resulted in Raeesah being selected for the Workers’ Party.”
Ms Khan will continue with campaigning, said Mr Singh, adding that the party will “review this episode” after the election campaign.
Mr Singh was also asked by a reporter if this was part of a series of attempts to cast aspersions on the WP’s Sengkang GRC team. He replied: “I don't want to speculate on what the motives and intentions of some of these people are but as far as our candidates are concerned ... if there's a response that needs to be made, I would fully expect the candidates to respond accordingly.”
On whether this would affect the WP's chances at the General Election, he said the party does not speculate on what could happen in the election.
“I think we’ve put our position as a party forward ... I’ll leave it in (the public’s) good hands to decide … whether we are a serious party or we enter politics for fun.”
He reiterated the WP’s message to Singaporeans that their vote counts and that voters will need to “think very carefully about the future of Singapore, especially in this upcoming decade” given multiple issues confronting Singapore such as an ageing population.
“There are many important questions to settle and I think we have to ensure that there’s an opposition presence in Parliament to defend the rights of the public on issues where the PAP shouldn't be given a blank cheque,” he said.
WP HAS MADE ITS STAND ON NCMP SCHEME: PRITAM
Mr Singh also responded to a separate statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday evening.
In that statement, Mr Heng had called on the opposition party to be “transparent and accountable to voters”, and make clear whether it will take up seats under the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme if offered.
To that, Mr Singh said he is “quite surprised” by the comment and he would invite Mr Heng to “have a look at the Hansard” as the WP has long stated its position on the scheme since it was introduced in 1984.
“The stand has been made in Parliament … It's on the record and that stand hasn't changed. He should just review that record.”
The NCMP scheme guarantees the opposition a minimum number of seats in Parliament, by allowing the “best-performing losers” to enter Parliament after a General Election.
It has emerged as one of the key issues this General Election, with the People's Action Party (PAP) telling the electorate that there will be a minimum of 12 opposition voices in Parliament no matter how they vote.
The opposition parties have countered by saying that NCMPs are not as effective as elected MPs in representing the people.