Ladies and Gentlemen,
Singapore's state controlled newspaper the Straits Times online edition March 13, 2012 reports "Supreme Court to review Hougang by election application on March 30". It is a surprising story, given the limitations Singaporeans live under the Lee ruling family to read of a case like this.
In an island where even the slightest of criticism, (never mind the fact that the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, expression and rule of law), will result in lawsuits and even jail, and where it is unheard for anyone to openly challenge the government and get away with it, this case is indeed surprising.
History has shown that such misguided actions (misguided in the Singaporean sense)has invariably led to defamation actions, contempt of court actions where the government always wins, followed by eternal harassment, loss of livelihood and bankruptcy. I am afraid, this is one such case.
Hougang is a constituency in Singapore led up till 2 weeks ago by an opposition politician who had suddenly been dismissed from his party for womanizing. As the seat has become vacant, the government would have to hold a by election under the law.
According to the Straits Times story, Vellama a 42 year old woman who works as a part time cleaner has taken the government to court claiming the "the Prime Minister does not have an unfettered discretion in deciding whether and when to hold the election" and therefore he should do so forthwith, to which the Prime Minister has countered that he will call a a by election but as to when he will do it is entirely up to him.
It would have helped if Madam Vellama had made sure that she has a leg to stand on, but alas, it appears, she is in very thick soup.
Remember we are dealing with Singapore Parliamentary practice, which even though it has nothing to do with English Parliamentary practice, since the former is a one party Stalinist state under the Lee ruling family while the latter is a true democracy; even so, in theory the government will rely on English Parliamentary practice when it suits them and I am afraid devour this poor woman. Singapore legal and parliamentary practice is historically officially based on the English model.
A cursory reading of the Constitution of Singapore does not make any reference to the timing of by elections, neither does Singapore Parliamentary Elections Act either. Falling back on English Parliamentary practice on this point, although in England too there is no statutory requirement for the government to hold the elections within any specific period of time, there are conventions which indicate it should be done within 3 months. (http://australianpolitics.com/uk/parliament/fs54-elections.pdf)
Vellama would not be able to argue under the law that the prime Minister is obliged to do it now. Had she waited for 3 months and then brought suit, although winning such cases in Singapore is impossible, she would at least have less egg on her face.
In Singapore the loser in a civil suit ordinarily pays the winner's costs (unlike the American system where each bears their own costs), and we know it is not cheap, as numerous government critics who have been foolish enough to do it are living proof.
In this case, I am sure Vellama is going to lose but what is worse, if we could go by the recent costs awards in such cases, it is going to be $50,000 if not more, which I am sure she does not have even a fraction, resulting in her being the latest of Lee Kuan yew's bankrupts.
I am afraid she is now in a fix, sort of between the devil and the deep. If she withdraws the case now, she would still be clobbered with intolerable costs; the same thing if she went on with her case.
If Vellama is an activist trying to push Singapore government towards more liberty and freedom through the courts, she should be a millionaire with assets in Switzerland. Being a part time cleaner with a limited income makes this sort of bravado suicidal.
Remember Singapore Lee ruling family is determined to stay in power and their preferred method, Chinese style, "killing a chicken and frightening the monkeys".
This now is another opportunity for them to make it clear to each and everyone that it is simply dangerous to go around challenging them in this manner. And how better to publicly to do it by killing this chicken, in this case poor part time cleaner Vellama to keep in line the monkeys (Singapore citizens).
Attorney at Law
Disbarred from practicing law in Lee's Singapore, imprisoned and refused entry to the island for criticizing Singapore's judiciary in this blog (see blogpost May 29, 2008 Singapore. Judge Belinda Ang's Kangaroo Court)
Actively practicing law in California and in good standing at the California Bar.
Member in good standing as a lawyer in England and Wales (Barrister).
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