Dr Chee under virtual house arrest during elections?
The Singapore General Elections draw ever closer and the various political parties gather in strength and to plan elaborate campaign strategies. The energy is electrifying, as even now, potential candidates from every party seem intent on making known their personalities, profiles and plans, to the public.
With each passing week, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) brings fresh candidates to the field and as the Workers’ Party (WP) draws up a compelling party slogan and manifesto, the National Solidarity Party (NSP) seems poised to win the hearts of the people with their ongoing daily walkabouts.
Indeed, the mainstream media is a-flood with election coverage. But, where is the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and its role in all of this? Will the SDP’s most recognised member, Dr Chee Soon Juan, be able to effectively spearhead his party’s mission, to continue fighting to represent the people in Parliament? Or is it true that he is prevented from taking part in the upcoming General Election (GE) due to an apparent ‘house arrest’?
While many of Dr Chee’s exploits have been shrouded in mystery and clouded by controversy, an intriguing issue arises; one that could present a cause for concern and worry to his most ardent supporters.
Recently, on April 12, 2011, we met up with Dr Chee and confirmed that he will be not allowed to venture out of his house during the GE.
Dr Chee was declared a bankrupt – on February 10 2006 – by the Singapore High Courts for failing to pay damages amounting to $500,000 in defamation lawsuits by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and the then Senior Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. These lawsuits were in response to remarks made by Dr Chee in the 2001 GE, accusing Mr Goh and Mr Lee of misleading Parliament over an alleged loan of S$17 billion to the then Indonesian president Suharto.
Dr Chee’s status as an undischarged bankrupt has made him unable to contest the upcoming elections. The Parliamentary Elections Act, provision 83 states: ‘No person who is an undischarged bankrupt shall take part in any election activity’. And this is the reason for his apparent ‘house arrest’.
Therefore, could the simple act of chatting with local residents outside his home or office be misconstrued as ‘conducting an election activity’- a breach of the law? Would Dr Chee be unable to buy food from the local hawker center for fear of being accused of promoting his campaign? For now, the duration of this ‘house arrest’ remains unclear. However, with Dr Chee being unable to venture outdoors during the GE due to this vague political quarantine, one wonders if the SDP is going into the elections with its hands tied firmly behind its back.
Dr Chee raised a few thought provoking issues when The Online Citizen interviewed him on 12 April 2011.
He recounted that at the last elections, the authorities had warned him that he was not allowed to walk around because people will follow him and this will build up into a crowd or procession and they could not allow that to happen. On one such occasion, Dr Chee was stopped by the authorities and prevented from walking back to his car to go home. “Something must be very wrong with this society where I can’t even walk and people can’t even walk with me.” Dr Chee said. He could not understand the rationale or logic behind such a mentality. “The minute they see my car from afar, they start radioing each other,” Dr Chee continues. “The minute I step into my car, the whole team, I don’t know if it is the CID (criminal investigation department) or plain-clothes police, surround me. I cannot move. When I get up on stage an officer will warn me that I may be committing an offense”.
Dr Chee questions the logic and sense of such an order as stated in the Parliamentary Elections Act – that ‘no person who is an undischarged bankrupt shall take part in any election activity’. Dr Chee says, “It really does not make sense for me as secretary general not to be able to take part in the elections.” He says “laws should stem from common sense.”
“I think it is very unjust. I am a citizen of Singapore and I was born and grew up here. I am entitled to take part in elections.” He charges that the “government makes a mockery of the Constitution.”
“They try to justify everything. They do contortions and somersaults,” he says. Citing further incidents as examples, Dr Chee explains that “they will always twist the interpretation of the law.”
Dr Chee says this restrictive provision, which effectively constrains him to “stay-indoors”, is akin to him being prevented from traveling overseas and is in violation of personal freedoms and human rights. “In the last five years, I haven’t been able to travel out of Singapore. This is something under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is a violation of my human rights. And that is my freedom of travel.” He points out that in view of these fundamental rights, he should also be able to participate freely in politics.
When we ask Dr Chee if the “house arrest” is going to affect his plans for the upcoming GE, he says he has to work indoors now. He points out that he is busy coordinating activities and conducting briefings for speakers. Also, he continues to organize logistical support and looks into the welfare of his party volunteers. “Even now, it’s going on at quite an intense level,” he explains. “It will intensify during the election.”
Despite being restricted by the law as far as taking part in election activities are concerned, Dr Chee is undeterred. Though one might expect him to become frustrated, he remains confident and is in high spirits. “These laws are meant to scare you more than anything else,” he says.
And although having been sued, bankrupted and jailed, along with having his name smeared in the media, Dr Chee remains unbowed.