Soros criticizes Singapore’s lack of political freedom

Soros criticizes Singapore’s lack of political freedom

SINGAPORE, Jan. 11 Kyodo

U.S. billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros on Wednesday criticized Singapore government leaders for using libel lawsuits to crush opposition politicians.

”Obviously, Singapore does not qualify as an open society,” Soros said in response to a question at a forum on global open society in Singapore.

He observed that politicians from opposition parties have been slapped with lawsuits for libel, which often resulted in exorbitant financial penalties leading to their bankruptcy, and as a result barred them from running in political elections.

”The use of libel and financial penalties can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” said Soros, who is founder and chairman of the Open Society Institute.

But he added, ”Singapore is a prosperous society, and prosperity and openness go together…I hope Singapore will become an open society.”

Speaking to reporters later, Soros said, ”When people who express critical views are sued, and sued out of existence by imposing financial penalties, they are prevented from participating in political life.”

”That is the deficiency of the system which I think by now could be abandoned.”

In its annual report last year, the U.S. State Department criticized Singapore for using libel suits to intimidate the opposition, saying the threat stymies opposition parties.

Singapore has been ruled by the People’s Action Party since independence, and opposition parties are generally weak and fragmented.

Under three decades of rule by Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew until 1990, Singapore was transformed from a colonial backwater to become Southeast Asia’s most advanced economy. But critics say the economic wealth that Singapore enjoys today has come at the price of political freedom.

Lee’s elder son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who took office in 2004, has promised to pursue greater ”openness” and a kinder, gentler style of rule in which citizens would have more say in the political process.

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