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Singapore’s most vocal opposition leader accused the High Court on Tuesday of making his cross-examination of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “meaningless” by upholding objections to almost every question asked.
Lee and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew pressed for a second day for aggravated damages against Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, his sister and executive member Chee Siok Chin, and the party itself.
Justice Belinda Ang granted the request of Lee’s lawyer Davider Singh to limit the time for cross-examination of the prime minister, which started on Monday. She also agreed to set two hours for the cross-examination of independence leader and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, wrapping up the proceedings on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
Lee took the witness stand for more than an hour. Singh objected to one question after another from Chee, who was representing himself, continually on the grounds of irrelevance. The objections were upheld.
“You have chopped off our legs and lopped off our arms,” Chee Siok Chin said to Ang. “Do you want our heads next?”
The Lees won the defamation suit against the SDP and the Chees in 2006 stemming from the SDP newsletter, The New Democrat, published before the general election that year. It contained articles on a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation and drew parallels between how the charity and government were run.
The father and son sued over remarks which alleged they were corrupt and covered up wrongdoings at the foundation.
Not only were questions touching on the scandal ruled irrelevent, but others on Government Investment Corporation funds, Lee’s salary and his awareness of the plights of the elderly poor and other conditions in the affluent city-state.
“Lee has said he takes great pride in his integrity,” Chee told Ang in explaining a question. “It must be relevant.”
“Move on,” she responded.
Lee did acknowledge that he had said that Chee harbored hatred toward him. When Chee asked how Lee knew him, the prime minister said “not as a personal friend” but from his record as a public figure.
The case marks the first time any leader of the ruling People’s Action Party has been cross-examined by a political opponent in open court. The party holds all but two seats in the 84-member parliament and has dominated the political scene since independence from Malaysia in 1965.
If the SDP is unable to pay up, the 28-year-old party faces the prospect of dissolution.
Chee Soon Juan was declared bankrupt following a defamation award of 500,000 Singapore dollars (373,000 US dollars) in February 2006 to Lee Kuan Yew and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.
He is barred from running for parliament until 2011. His sister was declared bankrupt for failing to pay costs related to a protest last year. Activists and critics including Amnesty International say Singapore’s leaders use defamation lawsuits to cripple opposition politicians. The government maintains such legal action is necessary to safeguard the leaders’ reputations.
* Dr Chee’s full quote to Mr Lee Hsien Loong was: “I don’t hate you. To hate someone, that someone must do something big and controversial. Your only claim to legitimacy is that you are Lee Kuan Yew’s son. So don’t flatter yourself. You are not worth the time and the effort.”
Singapore politicians hurl insults in court
Singapore politicians hurled insults and clashed over transparency in the city-state in a court case on Tuesday.
Former leader Lee Kuan Yew, 84, and his son, the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, took the stand as part of a hearing to determine defamation damages against the opposition Singapore Democratic Party and its leader Chee Soon Juan, who is not a member of a parliament dominated by Lee’s party.
“I don’t think even Solomon would be able to mediate between a psychopath and sane rational people,” he said, referring to the biblical King Solomon.
Most of Chee’s questions to Lee Hsien Loong, which ranged from the secrecy of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund investments to ministerial pay that is amongst the world’s highest, were objected to by Lee’s lawyer on the grounds of irrelevance and upheld by the judge.
Lee Kuan Yew is credited with policies that have been critical to making Singapore one of the region’s most prosperous countries, but has been criticised by human rights groups for his use of lawsuits against political opponents and the media.
Singapore’s political landscape has been dominated by one party — the People’s Action Party — since its independence in 1965. Its past two prime ministers still retain loosely defined cabinet posts, namely “minister mentor” and “senior minister”.
* Dr Chee’s full quote to Mr Lee Kuan Yew was: “I don’t hate you, I really don’t. I feel sorry for you, I think you cut a pitiable figure. But no, I don’t hate you. I feel sorry for you because I think that you derive much pleasure in what you do but find little joy in life.”