The Week In Opinion

Parliamentary privilege and Raeesah Khan; what the Ukraine crisis means for Taiwan

Former Sengkang GRC MP Raeesah Khan giving evidence on Dec 2, 2021 before the Parliament’s Committee of Privileges. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Throughout the Raeesah Khan saga - and before the Committee of Privileges' (COP) final report released on Thursday (Feb 10) - some had wondered why the complaint against the former Workers' Party MP was not brought before a court of law. 

But in Singapore, the executive, legislature, and the judiciary are co-equal branches of Government. Parliament, the executive, and the courts respect each other's sphere of responsibility and authority, says Singapore Management University associate law professor Eugene K.B. Tan in his commentary.

A key principle of parliamentary privilege is that parliamentary business can only be properly conducted without fear or favour and hindrance, including from the other branches of Government.

The courts have a legal and constitutional duty to protect freedom of speech as well as Parliament's powers, rights, privileges and immunities, but they do not have the power to regulate and control how Parliament conducts its business. Similarly, Parliament does not interfere with the way the judges discharge their judicial responsibilities.

Simply put, parliamentary privilege is meaningless without parliamentary independence. "No branch of Government has an overruling influence over the others, and each has the necessary means to resist encroachment from the others," explains Professor Tan.

The COP may have made its final report, but this is not the final chapter in the long-running case. Parliament will debate the report Tuesday (Feb 15), including its recommendation for Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh and WP vice-chair Faisal Manap to be referred to the Public Prosecutor for further investigation, with a view to considering if criminal proceedings ought to be instituted.

What the Ukraine crisis means for Taiwan

There has been much speculation that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could lead to China taking advantage of the United States' preoccupation in Europe to attack Taiwan.

But US interests in Taiwan and Ukraine are not symmetrical, as Taiwan is vastly more important to the US and to the world economy than Ukraine, says former diplomat and chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore Bilahari Kausikan in his commentary.

He notes that the US has no treaty obligation to defend either Ukraine or Taiwan. But given the political mood towards China in the US, it would be "political suicide" for any American president to stand idly by should the Chinese attack Taiwan, he says. 

Moreover, if the US fails to defend Taiwan, the entire American alliance system in East Asia, as well as looser partnerships such as the Quad, will be badly - and probably fatally - undermined.

"Therefore, if it attacks Taiwan, China will probably find all of US allies in East Asia, and possibly India too, arrayed against it in one way or another," says Mr Kausikan. He  doubts that Mr Xi urged Mr Putin to invade when they met during the Winter Olympics, as their joint statement does not contain the word "Ukraine".

"Talk of 'coordination', Chinese expressions of support for Russia's security concerns, and the speculation over Taiwan, is perhaps better understood as psychological operations to unsettle the US and its allies," he says, adding that regardless of what happens in Ukraine, unless Taiwan goes "crazy" and unilaterally declares independence, war over Taiwan is not imminent.

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