Singapore’s Chee Vows to Fight On Despite Looming Bankruptcy

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore opposition politician Chee Soon Juan vowed to press on even as defamation suits brought against him by the island’s two most senior leaders threaten to push him into bankruptcy and bar him from elections.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew are suing the Singapore Democratic Party chief over suggestions made in October that S$17 billion ($9.3 billion) in taxpayer money was lent to former Indonesian President Suharto.

Goh and Lee’s party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), say the loan never went ahead.

“The most important step is to make these government leaders account for what they do in office,” Chee told Reuters on the sidelines of a court hearing into the case on Wednesday.

“That job of holding them accountable, expensive as it may be, costly as it may be, cannot be avoided.”

Singapore courts have turned down Chee’s request to have foreign lawyers defend him twice. The free speech proponent and former university lecturer said he will appeal the court’s decision and has until May 18 to file his appeal.

Chee, who supports his young family with the sale of his political books, said bankruptcy was a “definite possibility” as damages and legal costs from the suits could hit S$1 million.

Under Singapore law a bankrupt cannot sit in parliament or stand for elections.

“My foremost concern is really to push for openness, accountability, transparency, all in a nutshell — democracy, and if it takes for me to not be able to stand for elections to do that then so be it,” Chee said.

Suing outspoken political opponents for hundreds of thousands of dollars is a well-established tactic of PAP officials, which has drawn harsh criticism from abroad.

PAP members say they resort to the courts to defend their reputations against unfair attacks.

Veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was made bankrupt last year after defaulting on an instalment from a defamation suit which involved some PAP members.

“We’ll work to the day when they can begin to see the light and not use the courts always to stifle opposition, to stifle questions,” Chee said.

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