Straits Times: WP case adjourned indefinitely

A PETITION to wind up the Workers’ Party over a S$511,643 debt owed by the party and two others to 10 committee members of the first Tamil Language Week was adjourned indefinitely yesterday.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Mr Liew Teck Huat, asked for an adjournment as his clients were considering other options and they had instructed him to hold on to the petition.

He told Judicial Commissioner Choo Han Teck that the Court of Appeal had this week reserved judgment in an appeal by the party, Mr A. Balakrishnan and Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam.

They had been ordered by the High Court to pay S$265,000 in damages and costs for defaming the 1995 Tamil Language Week organising committee.

Mr Balakrishnan, a veteran WP member, wrote an article criticising these committee members in the August 1995 issue of the party’s newsletter, The Hammer. Mr Jeyaretnam, now a Non-Constituency MP, is its editor.

The 11 committee members sued and 10 of them won.

They claimed the article had portrayed them as government stooges out to curry favour with the authorities. They were also accused of failing to promote the Tamil language and of “nakedly prostituting” themselves for political gain.

Among those who sued was a People’s Action Party MP for Bukit Timah GRC, Mr R. Ravindran. The 10 plaintiffs subsequently filed a petition to wind up the party on the grounds of insolvency.

They also filed a second petition to make Mr Jeyaretnam a bankrupt.

The committee has served a bankruptcy notice on Mr Balakrishnan.

Present in court yesterday was Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang, the WP’s assistant secretary-general.

Lawyers interviewed by The Straits Times recently felt that both Mr Low and Mr Jeyaretnam could lose their Parliament seats if the petition is successful and their party is wound up.

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Posted in 1999 04. Comments Off on Straits Times: WP case adjourned indefinitely

Straits Times: Verdict crucial to fate of Workers’ Party

By Ahmad Osman

AT ELECTION rallies, the crowds loved it when Workers’ Party treasurer A. Balakrishnan entertained them with speeches in Tamil.

His eyeballs would roll, one finger would stab the air and his voice would change in pitch as he took potshots at the People’s Action Party.

The insurance salesman spoke as compellingly as a leading actor in a Bollywood movie. Bollywood, in Bombay, is India’s answer to Hollywood.

Every performance of his was applauded – even by those in the audience who did not understand a word of Tamil.

But his popularity in the party dipped after it was sued over an article that he wrote in 1995. And Mr Balakrishnan is no longer the party’s treasurer.

That article, written in Tamil, was published in the August 1995 issue of the party’s newsletter, The Hammer. The newsletter is edited by its secretary-general and Non-Constituency MP, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam.

In the article, Mr Balakrishnan criticised the organisers of the first Tamil Language Week, which began on April 8, 1995. Ten members of the event’s organising committee claimed that they were portrayed in the article as a bunch of government stooges out to curry favour with the authorities.

They sued Mr Balakrishnan, the Workers’ Party as the publisher of the article, and Mr Jeyaretnam as the editor of The Hammer.

The plaintiffs won and have presented the three defendants with a bill of S$511,643 for defamatory damages and legal costs.

That money can be paid individually or collectively by the defendants. They have appealed against last December’s judgment ordering them to pay the damages.

The outcome of the appeal is expected to be known in the next month or so. It will be crucial to the fate of the party, Mr Jeyaretnam and Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang, its assistant secretary-general.

If the appellants lose, this will pave the way for the High Court to hear a petition by the 10 Tamil Language Week committee members to wind up the party which, they say, is insolvent and unable to pay its debts.

The 10 people have also filed a second petition to make Mr Jeyaretnam a bankrupt. Last year, he had said that he could be made a bankrupt and lose his seat in Parliament as he has no money to pay the damages and legal costs for defaming Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at an election rally.

Dr Tan Bin Seng, the WP chairman, says the party has not decided what to do now because it has to wait for the outcome of the appeal, which was heard yesterday.

Mr Jeyaretnam is now away in the US with the Singapore Democratic Party chief, Dr Chee Soon Juan.

They are there to talk about the political situation and highlight the plight of the opposition in Singapore.

Dr Tan said the WP has also not decided on what it would do if the two petitions against it and Mr Jeyaretnam are successful.

Several lawyers interviewed believe that if the party is wound up, both Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Low are likely to lose their seats in Parliament.

The Singapore Constitution does not allow an MP to remain in Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that put him up for election. Some WP members expect a by-election to be held in Hougang if Mr Low has to leave Parliament. And they are confident he will be re-elected even if he stands as an independent candidate.

He was re-elected with an increased majority in the last General Election and has a good rapport with the voters there.

Several WP cadres say it is also possible for their leaders to apply to register a new party.

This will give Mr Low a new political vehicle that he needs and can use in future to try and achieve the opposition’s dream of capturing its first Group Representation Constituency.

Dr Chee was fined more than S$2,000 recently for giving a public talk without a permit. This means hecannot stand for election for five years unless he gets his conviction overturned on appeal.

To avoid being forced to close down, the WP can try to raise funds to pay the damages owed to the people who sued the party.

It will be tough, some WP members say, for it to raise such a big sum here in the midst of the recession, despite some public sympathy for the plight faced by the party and its leaders.

But the immediate issue, as Dr Tan said, is the outcome of the appeal in court by the party, Mr Balakrishnan and Mr Jeyaretnam.

Posted in 1999 04. Comments Off on Straits Times: Verdict crucial to fate of Workers’ Party

Straits Times: Judgment reserved on WP’s appeal

THE Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment on a case that is crucial for the Workers’ Party and its two MPs, Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam and Mr Low Thia Khiang.

The party, its chief, Mr Jeyaretnam, and veteran member, Mr A. Balakrishnan, are appealing against last December’s High Court judgment asking them to pay S$265,000 in damages for defaming 10 members of the committee that organised the first Tamil Language Week from April 8, 1995.

The plaintiffs, who won their defamation suit, have filed a petition to wind up the party on the grounds that it is insolvent and cannot pay $511,643 in damages and legal costs. They also filed a second petition to make Mr Jeyaretnam, a Non-Constituency MP, a bankrupt.

Hearing of the petitions is likely to be delayed until the outcome of the appeal. If the three appellants lose their appeal and if the petition to wind up the party succeeds, both Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Low, MP for Hougang, are likely to lose their seats in Parliament.

Some lawyers say the Constitution does not allow an MP to remain in Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the party that put him up for election.

The 10 committee members, including People’s Action Party MP R. Ravindran, said they were defamed in a Tamil article by Mr Balakrishnan in the party’s newsletter, The Hammer, edited by Mr Jeyaretnam.

They claimed they were depicted as government stooges.

Mr H.E. Cashin, the appellants’ lawyer, argued yesterday that there was nothing defamatory in the article, which did not refer specifically to members of the committee.

He added that Mr Jeyaretnam, who does not read or write Tamil, had nothing to do with what was written.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mr Liew Teck Huat, said that the message in the article was that the committee members were “nakedly prostituting themselves” to seek political gains or office.

“This is the sting of the defamation. Nothing can be more defamatory,” he said.

Posted in 1999 04. Comments Off on Straits Times: Judgment reserved on WP’s appeal

Straits Times: Hearing adjourned to next Friday

THE High Court yesterday adjourned the hearing of a petition by 10 people to wind up the Workers’ Party for failing to pay them S$511,643 in defamatory damages and legal costs.

The petition claiming that the party cannot pay its debts and is insolvent will be heard next Friday after the hearing on Wednesday of an appeal against last December’s judgment ordering the WP, its secretary-general J.B. Jeyaretnam and veteran member A. Balakrishnan to pay the damages.

The order was made by Justice Goh Joon Seng who ruled that the three defendants had defamed Mr R. Ravindran, a People’s Action Party MP in Bukit Timah GRC, and nine other members of the committee that organised the first Tamil Language Week in 1995. The members were described in an article in the August 1995 issue of the WP’s newsletter, The Hammer, as government stooges out to obtain and curry favour with the authorities.

The article was written by Mr Balakrishnan and published in The Hammer, which was edited by Mr Jeyaretnam, now a Non-Constituency MP.

He and Mr Low Thia Khiang, the Workers’ Party’s MP for Hougang, are likely to lose their seats in Parliament if the petition is successful and the WP is wound up.

The Constitution does not allow an MP, who ceases to be a member of a party that put him up for election, to keep his seat in Parliament.

Posted in 1999 04. Comments Off on Straits Times: Hearing adjourned to next Friday