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Opposition sets up center to promote democracy

Associated Press. May 21, 1999.

TWO opposition party leaders announced the opening of a center Thursday to promote democracy, governmental accountability and freedom of information in Singapore.

The Open Singapore Center, a nonpartisan organization, will begin operations Saturday, including requesting information from the government about use of taxpayers' money.

If the government refuses to give the information, the center will publicize that "and let the people know how transparent or non-transparent the whole system is," said Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic Party.

For the past 40 years, this Southeast Asian island-state has been ruled by the People's Action Party, which has imposed tight restrictions on civic activity and political expression.

The government has cited fears that discussions about political, religious, ethnic and language differences could cause instability in Singapore's multiethnic society of 3.1 million people.

Asked how they would have any leverage with the government, Workers' Party leader Joshua B. Jeyaretnam said, "The people will be our leverage."

The two party leaders said they hoped the public would support the center with funds and pressure to get answers on governmental and business policies.

Both Chee and Jeyaretnam have clashed with the leaders of the ruling party.

Jeyaretnam is awaiting the outcome of a court appeal that could result in his party being declared bankrupt and shut down over nonpayment of a libel award involving a member of the PAP.

The prime minister also has applied to a court to have Jeyaretnam declared personally bankrupt in a separate action, which would make him ineligible to keep his seat in parliament.

Chee plans to appeal a December conviction of violating the law that requires police permission for political speeches.

Chee said that when he tried to register the Open Singapore Center as a company last week, an official said his application would have to be sent for clearance to the Internal Security Department of the police and it would take two months for an answer. Chee said he demanded to have that in writing and the official backed down.

"But it's not a very promising start," he said.

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