Singapore’s ex-leaders write off political rival’s huge debt from defamation case
Mercy, or just a tactical move? South China Morning Post:
Prominent Singapore opposition leader Chee Soon Juan has been discharged from bankruptcy, the government said, after an unprecedented concession by two former prime ministers to whom he owed about S$500,000 (HK$3.2 million).
Ex-prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong agreed to accept a reduced amount of S$30,000 from Chee, which will free him from bankruptcy proceedings formally on Friday, a statement by the Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office said.
Chee, the firebrand leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, was declared bankrupt in 2006 after he failed to pay S$500,000 in court-ordered damages to Lee and Goh. The two had sued him for defamation for comments he made against them during the 2001 general elections.
The development means Chee, 50, will be able to travel outside the country freely and also contest the next elections, which are due in 2016. Still, some commentators saw the concession by Lee and Goh as a political manoeuvre – allowing Chee to contest the elections could split the fragmented opposition’s votes further at a time when the ruling People’s Action Party has lost much support because of rising prices and an influx of foreigners.
“It could be that Lee Kuan Yew has mellowed, but it’s hard to believe that he has changed because it doesn’t fit his character,” said respected political commentator and former newspaper editor P.N. Balji.
“The other possibility could be to ‘muddy the waters’, especially for the coming general elections. Chee’s party and the [other opposition] Workers’ Party do not see eye to eye and there might be a split in votes for the opposition.”
Lee, modern Singapore’s founding father, and Goh have frequently and successfully sued opposition leaders and other critics for defamation. A report published by Human Rights Watch in January criticised the country for resorting to charges of contempt of court, criminal and civil defamation as well as sedition to rein in its critics.
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Tags: bankruptcy, chee soon juan, defamation, discharge, indonesia, lawsuit, lee kuan yew, loan, singapore democratic party, suharto