Former candidate sues Progress Singapore Party over dismissal, 'violation of due process rights'

Ms Kala Manickam first opened proceedings in July against the Progress Singapore Party. PHOTO: PROGRESS SINGAPORE PARTY

SINGAPORE - The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) is being sued by a former member after a bitter falling-out first made public in January but that court documents now show date back to the General Election in July last year.

Ms Kala Manickam, who contested the polls as part of the PSP's losing slate in Nee Soon GRC, first opened proceedings in July against the faction founded by former ruling People's Action Party parliamentarian Tan Cheng Bock.

She wants the PSP to declare that the termination of her membership in December 2020 was wrongful and invalid.

Ms Kala, 54, believes her issues with the PSP took root when they cut off resources and support to her at the height of the hustings.

The party, in countering her lawsuit, has rejected this and accused her instead of being a disruptive and uncooperative figure during and after the elections.

Ms Kala, an adult educator and former army officer, is further seeking a $10,000 refund which she says she contributed towards election expenses such as printing fliers and pamphlets.

Her lawyers told The Straits Times: "Our client desires to have vindication as regards the alleged violation of her due process rights at general law and under the party Constitution. At this stage, she sees little point in being reinstated as a party member."

The last known precedent of such action was in 1993, when opposition veteran Chiam See Tong successfully sued the Singapore Democratic Party for illegally expelling him. His expulsion was reversed, though Mr Chiam later left of his own accord to join the Singapore People's Party.

The PSP's first electoral showing last year yielded two Non-Constituency MP seats, though it has since weathered a spate of controversies, infighting rumours and high-ranking departures.

With both sides disputing the facts laid out in statements made by each other, Ms Kala has also applied for the case to be heard in an open court, which could include witness evidence.

Escalating events

In one of seven affidavits filed by PSP members, party chief Francis Yuen said there was no basis for Ms Kala's claim of $10,000, which is collected from each election candidate. He pointed out that her own election expenses had run up to $33,627, with the party paying for the balance of $23,627.

He added that it made no sense for the PSP to "intentionally sabotage" its own candidate's chances at the polls.

Separately, Ms Kala's fellow Nee Soon GRC candidate Damien Tay described her as putting her self-interests ahead of the team, during the run-up to the elections. He and candidate Taufik Supan cited how she "went about doing her own things", such as going on solo walkabouts, skipping team meetings and amassing a volunteer pool for herself.

These alleged events led to a petition signed in August last year by 17 party members - including Ms Kala's own election agent - and one volunteer, calling on the party leadership to remove her from the Nee Soon team.

In Ms Kala's affidavit, she highlighted various incidents from August to December last year that escalated to the point of her membership being terminated.

These included Dr Tan asking if a quote she shared in a group chat was meant to challenge his leadership; Mr Yuen informing her of complaints about her from the rest of the Nee Soon team; her "abrupt" removal from constituency-related work including WhatsApp group chats; and Dr Tan first telling her to "move away" from Nee Soon activities before deciding, together with the central executive committee (CEC), that she should resign and leave the party altogether.

At one point, said Ms Kala, Dr Tan told her that no other constituencies or committees would have her.

But Dr Tan, in his affidavit, said he had offered Ms Kala the option to work with other teams in the party.

It was her uncompromising attitude that ultimately left the party with no choice, he said. Dr Tan pointed to a November meeting last year where she was confrontational, as if "raring for a fight"; and "aggressively questioned… proof of her wrongdoings by shouting: 'WHAT PROOF? WHAT PROOF?'".

Ms Kala's letter of termination, dated Dec 24, cited breaches of party discipline, disrespectful conduct and insubordination among other reasons for dismissal.

In her affidavit, she argued that the party's Constitution allows for a special party conference to be convened for member disputes, and a special CEC meeting for suspension and termination matters. No such conference took place, and she was not asked to appear before any CEC meeting, said Ms Kala.

She appealed against the termination decision twice - last December and in February - but was rejected by the CEC the first time, and by 55 out of 66 voting cadres on her second try.

'Public spectacle'

Last December, Ms Kala also feuded publicly with fellow Nee Soon candidate Brad Bowyer - who has since resigned - over Covid-19 pandemic measures.

The next month, the public came to know of Ms Kala's split with the party when she posted on Facebook that her membership had lapsed, while claiming "several glaring lapses and shortcomings" in the PSP. She did not mention the termination letter.

When a party conference was held on March 28 to elect a new CEC, Ms Kala said that she decided - "as a last resort" - to turn up at its headquarters in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre to try and present her case. She was denied entry.

She added in her affidavit that discussions and deliberations around her fate in the party were entirely opaque to her; that she was not given the chance to speak for herself; and that in conclusion, she had not been treated fairly.

In response to her application for the case to be heard in open court, Mr Yuen said in an affidavit that Ms Kala was hankering after a "public spectacle" and "media attention", and also accused her of abusing court process.

Ms Kala replied in another affidavit that she had first engaged her lawyers to write to the PSP in May to try and resolve the matter amicably. It was only after four letters and around two months of correspondence that she was compelled to commence court proceedings in July, she added.

Ms Kala's lawsuit comes on the heels of key figures quitting the party, with treasurer Kayla Low most recently departing in October.

Reports of internal strife also surfaced in July, with some members perceiving a nativist and racist slant to the PSP's position on Singapore's free trade agreement with India.

Prior to this year, the most prominent exits from the PSP were those of vice-chairman Michelle Lee and Mr Ravi Philemon, who both went on to form the Red Dot United party in May last year.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.