Who dares loses in Singapore

Election's would-be opposition candidates face ruin at the hands of the ruling party. Stephen Vines reports

Anyone crazy enough or brave enough to take on Singapore's ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in today's election can expect to have their past life minutely scrutinised for signs of misdemeanours and can be sure to face a torrent of vilification - that is if they are very lucky. Those who are not so fortunate can face loss of employment, disintegration of their marriages and bankruptcy through seemingly endless legal actions.

Remarkably, 39 people have braved the onslaught to run as opposition candidates. As one Western diplomat observed, "the government makes it clear to people that the cost of political participation outside the PAP is too high." The choice is simple, he says. "If you stay non-political you live very well here. This is a government used to virtually total control of parliament and the media, and wants to keep it that way, while also keeping the legal forms of a democracy."

On the eve of polling the PAP announced that eight of its members, including the Prime Minister, would be taking legal action against Tang Liang Hong, an opposition candidate who has been elevated as the demon of the election campaign for allegedly promoting "Chinese chauvinism". As is usual in these cases, Mr Tang is accused of libelling members of the ruling party.

The government and the PAP have never lost a libel case. The minimum cost of each case is about pounds 130,000. It is therefore quite likely that these proceedings will bankrupt Mr Tang. That in turn will make him ineligible to stand for parliament.

The leader of Mr Tang's party, JB Jeyaretnam, has been down this route before, after he broke the PAP's unchallenged position in parliament by winning a single seat. He was then hit with legal actions which led to bankruptcy. His constituency was abolished and he has only just been able to stand again for parliament after serving a disqualification period. A further series of legal actions may well bankrupt him again.

The relentless harrying of the opposition kills two birds with one stone, says Chee Soon Juan, another opposition leader. It deals a blow to the target and sends a warning to anyone who might be thinking of joining the opposition.

Dr Chee knows what he is talking about. In 1992 he joined an opposition party. Three months later he was fired from his university teaching post on accusations of having sent an unauthorised copy of his wife's dissertation to the US. He was later accused of distorting taxi fares claims of a few cents.

Then came the legal actions which forced him to sell his house. Others followed and more may be pending. Despite this he, too, managed to win a seat in parliament but even there found himself on the receiving end of another onslaught. A typing error in a presentation he made about health- care costs resulted in accusations of perjury, misconduct and giving false information to parliament. The Parliamentary Privileges Committee found him guilty on all counts and issued a 196-page document to back up its findings.

When Dr Chee and three colleagues appeared before the committee to defend themselves they got into hot water again and were fined some pounds 3,500 each for contempt, meaning they had asked questions or refused to answer questions which the PAP-controlled committee deemed to be holding parliament in contempt.

Why does Dr Chee bother when he could have enjoyed a quiet and relatively prosperous life as an academic? "If you keep pushing a person you get his back up against the wall," he says. "There is no choice but to fight back." He believes the current way of conducting politics cannot go on for ever. "You've got to keep the candle lit for that time when it can burn bright."

Voters who refuse to back the PAP can expect little mercy either. On Tuesday the PAP announced that it would scrutinise the election results precinct by precinct to see which voted for the opposition. Areas with high dissenting votes would find their housing services upgraded last.

This threat refines an earlier pledge to discriminate against whole constituencies that fail to elect PAP members. If, in the face of this onslaught, the opposition manages to improve on its 1991 performance, when it secured 39 per cent of the vote, the government may find that intimidation is not the best way to stay in power.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own