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As part of its on-going effort to advance global democratic change the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) held a meeting in Bangkok, Thailand to study how governments are preventing the development of civil societies around the world.
Dr Chee Soon Juan was invited to speak at the conference held from 18-19 July 2007. His attendance was, however, blocked yet again by the Official Assignee because of his bankruptcy status.
Dr Chee was made bankrupt by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong in 2006 following the lawsuit that the two former prime ministers took against him.
Ms Chee Siok Chin attended the meeting instead and was asked to present a paper on the situation in Singapore. She spoke about the difficult situation that confronted pro-democracy and freedom advocates in the country.
Ms Chee also elaborated on the Political Donations Act (PDA) which stipulates that political parties and political associations are not allowed to receive overseas funding. In addition to that these organizations are allowed to receive only up to $5,000 in anonymous donations.
What constitutes a “political association” is left to the Government. Presently, the Open Singapore Centre and the Think Centre are the only two organisations named in the gazette as such political associations.
The Open Singapore Centre that was established by Mr J B Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee in 2001 to promote transparency and democratic accountability in Singapore. The Think Centre was founded by Mr James Gomez.
Ms Chee pointed out that the PDA is aimed at crippling the work of the Opposition and the promotion of democracy in Singapore.
One of the fears of an authoritarian government is civil society. As a result, it spares little effort in ensuring that diverse and dissenting views remain silent or unheard by the general population.
In her presentation, the SDP leader also spoke about the use of defamation suits to silence the opposition.
A well-known media advocate from Malaysia commented that the use of defamation suits by Singapore’s leaders is like a cancer in danger of spreading.
One of the editors of Thailand’s The Nation, Mr Kavi Chongkittavorn, commented that former PM Thaksin had tried to turn Thailand into Singapore which proved extremely unpopular. He recognised difficulties faced by democracy advocates in Singapore.
Han Dongfang, a renown Chinese dissident now living in Hong Kong added that Mr Lee Kuan Yew is a “very bad example” for other leaders.
Another issue that Ms Chee raised was the fact that trade issues often take precedence over human rights. She said that the Singapore Government has done such an efficient job in selling the myth of its economic success story that few governments want to jeopardize their relationships with Singapore by supporting its civil society.
She also recommended that the final report, with the working title Defending Civil Society, address a common problem of the separation of powers especially that between the executive and the judiciary.
Defending Civil Society is being prepared by WMD in partnership with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The presentations at this conference will be considered in the final report which is expected to be launched next year.
It will be endorsed by an Eminent Persons Group which will include former heads of states, religious leaders and scholars such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and Egyptian scholar Saad Eddin Ibrahim.
Following the publication of the Defending Civil Society Report, the World Movement for Democracy will launch a campaign to promote the adoption of the norms and principles contained in the report among governments and international bodies