Workers' Party to survive lawsuit, but leader targeted

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 May, 1999, 12:00am

The cash-strapped opposition Workers' Party has lost a potentially life-threatening S$265,000 (HK$1.18 million) libel appeal, but it will not be wound up.

Personal bankruptcy proceedings are still expected to proceed against the party's chairman, Joshua Jeyaretnam, and veteran member A. Balakrishnan.

Should the proceedings succeed, Mr Jeyaretnam, one of just three opposition members of Parliament, will automatically lose his seat.

Asked to comment yesterday, Mr Jeyaretnam said: 'I'd rather not discuss it, thank you. I'm going to be meeting my counsel to discuss the matter tomorrow.' The offending libel appeared in an article published in an August 1995 edition of the Workers' Party newsletter, The Hammer, which defamed 10 organisers of the 1995 Tamil Language Week.

The 10 committee members, including ruling People's Action Party MP R. Ravindran, were described as government stooges in an article written in Tamil by Mr Balakrishnan, an insurance agent.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the sting in the article was a statement asking committee members not to 'prostitute nakedly' to gain political office.

The Workers' Party, Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Balakrishnan were together ordered to pay S$265,000 in damages, plus court costs that bring the total bill to S$511,643.

Mr Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, was found liable as general editor of the publication even though he cannot read Tamil and knew nothing of the article's contents.

The plaintiffs have adjourned their insolvency hearing against the Workers' Party indefinitely and say they are looking at other ways of recouping their money.

However, separate bankruptcy petitions against Mr Jeyaretnam and Mr Balakrishnan remain active.

Separately, Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, have teamed up to launch the Open Singapore Centre, the city-state's first political non-government organisation.

The organisation will act as a public resource centre to promote transparency and democratic accountability.