Outside activist is ‘star’ of IMF meeting

September 19, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Bangkok Post
19 Sep 06

An opposition politician who spent three nights on the pavement achieved his goal of remaining at the spot on Tuesday for the opening of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank annual meetings a few blocks away.

“We accomplished far more than we expected,” said Chee Soon Juan, elated despite weariness, dirty clothing and the unrelenting presence of the police since Saturday.

With Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong the first speaker, Chee, the head of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), said he had sent the premier a message by audiofile describing the global banking event as a “public relations disaster.”

The initial banning of 27 civil society organizations (CSOs) had evoked an international outcry and Singapore authorities subsequently lifted the prohibition against 22 of the activists. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said the ban had “embarrassed” the institution and the city-state.

Chee said he told Lee to “open up society” and “give back the rights to citizens.”

“Take heed,” the 44-year-old former psychology professor said. “The people want democracy.”

Chee, his sister Chee Siok Chin, and five others had planned a pro-democracy march last Saturday past the convention centre and Parliament House, culminating in a rally.

Police surrounded them every time they tried to move until negotiations on Monday enabled the group to move in single file to a busy section of Singapore and distribute hundreds of pamphlets criticizing the “denial of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly” in the city-state.

They returned to the pavement surrounding Singapore’s Speaker’s Corner, started in 2000 to give the public a place to air their views – but seldom used. Those who want to speak must register with the police first.

Chee and the others were confident that the police would not arrest them while the meeting was going on, but perhaps afterwards. The event winds up on Wednesday.

“They’ll wait until everyone has gone,” predicted Chee Soon Juan. “We took this into account from the start.”

Under the city-state’s laws, any outdoor gathering of four or more people is prohibited without a police permit. Chee Siok Chin said he applied for one but received no response.

Each of Chee’s supporters were still wearing the T-shirts saying, “Democracy Now.”

Sympathizers brought food throughout the ordeal.

Chee was bankrupted earlier this year after he was unable to pay Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong 500,000 Singapore dollars (320,000 US dollars) in libel damages stemming from the 2001 election.