On the 10th of December 1993, one Chiam See Tong took the Singapore Democratic Party to court for wrongful expulsion and to sue for consequential reliefs.
On 17th of May 1993, Chiam had attended a regular meeting of the Party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). At this time, one of the CEC members, a young Dr. Chee Soon Juan, had gone on a hunger strike in protest against the termination of his employment with the National University of Singapore on account of some alleged misuse of the university’s research funds.
Chiam was concerned that the manner of protest that Dr. Chee had chosen would damage the reputation of the SDP.
At the Party’s CEC meeting, Chiam sought to table a motion of censure against Dr. Chee, however, no one supported him.
Disappointed, he took this as a vote of no confidence in him as the Sec-Gen and consequently resigned the position. He gave up the position to a Ling How Doong, whom was Party Chairman at that time.
Chiam then took to the press with his frustrations.
Soon, at another CEC meeting (of which was now run by Ling), the Committee decided that Chiam should be disciplined and on the 28th of July 1993, Chiam received a notice requiring him to appear before the Party’s CEC for a hearing.
Chiam raised an objection that the hearing should not proceed – because some of its members were the very persons he criticised. This would bring about an unfair hearing. The CEC disagreed and this was overruled.
During the hearing, Chiam was subjected to questions, challenges and refutes “in random fashion” by the members. At the end of it all, it was decided that Chiam should be expelled.
The Court ruled for allowing Chiam’s claim against the SDP. This was based on the decision that an important element of natural justice, that of fair hearing, was the person whose conduct was sought to be impugned should be told clearly what case he was to meet. In this case, Chiam was not told of the real grievance against him.
Moreover, the proceedings required the participation in an adversarial way between the CEC and himself – this was not satisfactory and did not comply with the norm of fairness of which a disciplinary tribunal must observe. There was prejudice by the adjudicators from the start.
Chiam spoke to the press at length about the reasons for his resignation. He revealed that some of the party leaders were not credible, whilst others were motivated by self-interest. In particular, he commented on one of the members, Mr. Wong Hong Toy’s criminal record and Dr. Chee’s dismissal from NUS for misappropriation of research funds. He spoke of how Mr. Ling and Mr. Cheo Chai Chen (who were then party Members of Parliament for Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central), were running town councils like their own “little kingdoms”.
The PAP did not deliver Chiam as much damage as the old SDP CEC did.
Chee eventually was released from his bankruptcy because of sympathy from his litigants. He is now a free man, free to campaign at the elections.
But what about the Singapore Democratic Party that Chiam fought so hard to build (and eventually did win seats in Parliament?) Who is going to return the party back to him?
This story was written by Tay Leong Tan and first published on 5 Stars and a Moon
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