20 May 2006

Two SDP leaders resign as party's fate hangs in balance

SINGAPORE: Two SDP leaders resign as party's fate hangs in balance
Singapore Democratic Party leaders send in resignation letters after having made apologies for newsletter defamation

Straits Times
Friday, May 19, 2006

By Aaron Low

Two leaders of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have thrown in the towel even as the fate of their party hangs in the balance after its leadership decided not to fight a lawsuit brought against them by two People's Action Party (PAP) leaders.

Mr Kwan Yue Keng told The Straits Times yesterday that he and Mr Abdul Rasheed Abdul Kuthus sent in their resignation letters to party chief Chee Soon Juan earlier this month.

Both were among the initial four who apologised to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for defaming them in articles written in the party's newsletter.

Meanwhile, several other SDP leaders, including party stalwarts Wong Hong Toy and Christopher Neo, are mulling over their future in politics, especially now that the party faces the real possibility of being closed down.

The SDP has until midnight tonight to file a defence with the High Court against the defamation suit but its leadership, at a central executive committee (CEC) meeting on Wednesday night, had voted against fighting it.

The SDP, its 12-member CEC as well as its printer were issued legal letters on April 21 demanding an apology and damages for articles in The New Democrat that alleged that the two PAP leaders knew about problems at the National Kidney Foundation but covered them up. On April 26, those who did not meet the demands were sued. More have since said sorry, except for Dr Chee and his sister Chee Siok Chin.

In the event that no defence is filed by the SDP, the party will be deemed to have defamed the two PAP leaders.

It will have to pay costs and damages to them and lawyer Leonard Loo expects the amount to be in the six-figure range.

"The suit was filed in the High Court, which means the plaintiffs are claiming at least $250,000. Of course, the final judgment will depend on several factors and the amount awarded may be less," said Mr Loo, 35, from Leonard Loo & Co.

Mr Abdul Kuthus, the SDP treasurer, said the party has only about $100 in its coffers and no other notable assets. Its office in Serangoon is rented for about $600 a month. The SDP was founded 26 years ago by veteran opposition MP Chiam See Tong, who left it in 1996 to form the Singapore People's Party.

Although it faces the prospect of being wound up when it fails to pay the costs and damages from the lawsuit, a precedent involving the Workers' Party (WP) suggests that may not always be the case.

In 1998, the High Court ruled the WP had defamed the organisers of the first Tamil Language Week in an article published in the party's newsletter in 1995.

The 10 members of the organising committee then petitioned to wind up the WP but withdrew it indefinitely a few months later, as they sought other ways to get the money from the party.

In the SDP, some CEC members are clinging to the hope that it can be saved by say, pooling their money to pay for the damages.

Said Mr Wong Hong Toy, 69, who has been with the party for 18 years: "We will probably have a meeting to discuss this when the outcome is known. But if it cannot be saved then I don't think I will join any other party."

Another CEC member, Mr Christopher Neo, 43, plans to continue in politics even if the party is shut down. "I'm still executive director at Think Centre (a civil society group) and I am not ruling out joining other parties," he said.

Date Posted: 5/19/2006

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