Democracy limps out of courtroom in a Singapore sling

The Australian

The Wall Street Journal editorialises on a defamation battle between the litigious Lee Kuan Yew and the opposition

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore can rightly be proud of many achievements, but full democracy is not one of them. Which makes a recent David v Goliath exchange between one of the country’s few opposition politicians and Lee worth noting. The dialogue took place in a courtroom and is therefore privileged – which means we can report on it without risking a lawsuit, which Lee often files against critics.

The setting was a hearing to assess damages against Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party, and his sister and colleague, Chee Siok Chin. In 2006, the Chees lost a defamation suit brought by Lee and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over an article they published in their party newsletter that was interpreted by the court to imply corruption on the part of the government.

Chee Soon Juan is no orator but when the subject turned to the moral underpinnings of democracy the debate went game, set and match to Chee. Chee set out his philosophy while questioning Lee: “What I’m interested in is justice, the rule of law, because ultimately it is not about you, Mr Lee. It is not about me. You and I will pass on, but I can tell you, the practice of the rule of law, the entire concept of justice, democracy that is going to last for all eternity.”

Trial transcript that appears on

Chee Siok Chin: Mr Lee, it has been reported that you are paid $3.7 million a year for your role as Prime Minister. Can you confirm that to this court?

Lee’s counsel Davinder Singh: Objection.

Judge Belinda Ang: Sustained.

Chee: Do you know, Mr Lee, that you are the highest paid Prime Minister in the world, six times more than George Bush. Your salary is equivalent to eight leaders in the European countries, do you know that?

Singh: Objection, your honour.

Chee: Do you know that you are in the Guinness Book (of World) Records for the highest-paid prime minister?

Singh: Objection, your honour.

Chee: Mr Lee, you had said that as Prime Minister, you lead your government based on honesty, integrity, meritocracy and competence. Am I right?

Lee Hsien Loong: Yes.

Chee: Do you believe that cabinet ministers in Singapore, including yourself, have obtained their positions through meritocracy and competence?

Lee: We strive our best to reach the ideal.

Chee: Do you believe that you were appointed Prime Minister on your own merit?

Lee: Yes

Chee: Do you think that if your father had not been the former prime minister of Singapore you would still be the Prime Minister of Singapore today?

Lee: It is hypothetical question but I would say yes.

Chee: Well, it’s very good to see the leader of the country so confident. Reassuring, really.

Chee: Is it not true that your father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, was the prime minister of Singapore, he’s now the Minister Mentor. You are the current Prime Minister and your wife Madam Ho Ching is the CEO of Temasek Holdings, is that true?

Singh: Objection, your honour.

Judge: Sustained.

Chee: Mr Lee, Mr Francis Seow had said the ministers in Singapore, and that includes you, are not worth a cent that they are paid. Do you agree?

Singh: I object, your honour, Mr Francis Seow doesn’t have the guts to turn up in court himself so he shouldn’t use the –

Chee: Let us not take pot-shots –

Judge: Sustained.

Chee: Do you sleep at night, Mr Lee?

Singh: Objection, your honour.


Chee: Do you know that as the leader of the country that your Government deprives Singaporeans of much-needed welfare for the poor, the elderly and the infirm, that HDB (Housing and Development Board) prices are artificially inflated, and that many of us are not able to draw on our CPF (Central Provident Fund) savings even though we have tens of thousands of dollars in there and all this time, when Singaporeans are left rather ignored –

Singh: Objection, your honour.

Chee: By the Government –

Judge: Sustained.

Chee: While you live your life as a millionaire minister?

Singh: Objection, your honour. This is a classic example of the abuse that I had referred to earlier for the purpose of making all sorts of wild, unsubstantiated, and speculative allegations.

Footnote: Chee Siok Chin served a 10-day sentence at the Changi Women’s Prison for contempt of court for her cross-examination.,25197,23928377-20261,00.html

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