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Democrat Chee defies police action

Hong Kong Standard. Jan 6, 1999.

RELATED: Charged politician vows to battle on
         Democratic leader charged over public talk

A SINGAPORE opposition leader defied authorities by holding a rally a day after he appeared in court on a charge of giving a political talk without a permit.

Chee Soon Juan said he would press for greater democracy even at the risk of being barred from contesting polls.

Mr Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), challenged the government to emulate Taiwan and adopt democratic reforms. He had gone against a police warning to hold the gathering at the heart of the financial district in Raffles Place.

``I tell you right now, being convicted is the least of my worries,'' he told about 500 people through a make-shift loudspeaker system. ``I'll tell you the truth - I want to work towards democracy.''

Mr Chee had pleaded not guilty on Monday to giving a political talk without a licence under the Public Entertainment Act at the same place on 29 December. The maximum fine if convicted under the law is S$5000. Mr Chee, who ran unsuccessfully for parliament in 1997, could be disqualified from contesting elections if he is fined more than S$2,000.

Mr Chee said that the government had restricted freedom of expression, including rejecting or delaying permits for opposition parties to meet the people.

``If you cannot have democracy, then elections are meaningless because the government can always manipulate what they want to do,'' he told the lunchtime crowd of mostly office workers. ``They can put a facade, saying we have elections, but is there democracy?'' Saying there was not, the US-trained neuropsychologist, 36, added: ``And that's why the important thing for me is free flow of information into this country.''

He spoke after disregarding advice by a police officer that he was violating the law by holding the rally without a permit. Mr Chee also refused to go to a police station for an interview.

On democracy and economic success going together, he said that Taiwan was ``one of the most democratic and open societies in the world today''. And while the Singapore economy registered more than 5 per cent growth last year, he said, it was now in recession. ``The government keeps saying that if you have democracy, you don't get economic growth,'' he said.

He also accused Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of issuing threats against reform-minded Singaporeans, citing an interview Mr Lee gave to a foreign television network. In that interview, according to Mr Chee, Mr Lee had said that while the government was prepared to give greater freedom to those who asked for it, the same people should be prepared to be ``demolished.''

``No, I say, no,'' Mr Chee went on. ``I tell Mr Lee to stop living in his memoirs. It is 1999 not 1959. We don't want to talk about demolishing. We don't want to talk about crushing. We don't want to talk so much about confrontation.

``What we want to talk about is creating. We want to talk about questioning, innovation, creativity. The only way all these policies can come about is if the government begins to realise that the people are a lot more intelligent and responsible than they think we are.''

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) first won a parliamentary majority in 1959 when under British rule and has won every election by handsome margins since independence in 1965.

The SDP lost its three parliamentary seats in the last elections, in 1997, which gave the PAP all but two of the 83 seats. - AFP

 Published in the Hong Kong Standard Jan 6, 1999

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