30 September 2008

J B Jeyaretnam passes on

Opposition politician J B Jeyaretnam passed away in the early hours of 30 September 2008. A lawyer who sprang into prominence by winning the Anson constituency by-election in 1981, thus breaking the People's Action Party's monopoly of all seats in parliament, he paid for that act of insolence (at least in the eyes of the PAP) by being targetted and soon sued for defamation. He was bankrupted as a result of having to pay enormous sums as damages.

Yet, he never gave up the fight. Again and again, he threw himself against the steamroller of an authoritarian state. Despite paying dearly for his pugnacity and idealism, he became a beacon of hope for any Singaporean who believed in liberty and democracy. We were awed by his courage and tenacity, and we must surely be grateful that he kept, at times almost single-handedly, the flame alive.


venga said...

He didn't leave quietly.He got out of bankruptcy, started practicing law again, and even started a new political party, "reform party"- even on its face, promises of grand things to come. In a way, his death is an anticlimax. He was already very old, and already given his all, but still, to me, its such an unsatisfactory end.

yuen said...

I wrote this after Straits Times carried an article on Jeyaratnam last year url: sinazen.com/opposition
Mr Jeyaratnam's New Party

Like the similarly familiar figure Francis Seow, JB Jeyaretnam started his career within the Singapore government system:

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam: Date of Birth: January 5, 1926 Served as a judge in Singapore District Court (1952-1957) Attorney Generals' Chamber (1957-1961) Registrar Of Singapore Supreme Court, District Judge and Head of Subordinate Judiciary (1961-1963)

I am not familiar with why he left the judiciary to start his own practice - it appears the firm did OK but he was not particularly well off - nor with why he decided to enter politics. He was very much "under the radar" till 1981 when he stood for a by-election in Anson. Again, I am not sure anyone still remembers why there was so much voter discontent in that area, only that he won over some well qualified technocrat (whom, I guess, the PAP would prefer to forget). The one story I do remember was that whereas the PAP candidate spent little time campaigning in Anson, other than attending a couple of rallies (it was said he drove there in his BMW, during the days when BMWs were still rare in Singapore), JB diligently canvassed for votes from door to door. However, since PAP had been winning all the seats in general elections that way for many years, there must have been some particular factors in that by-election causing their accustomed methods to fail.

In the 1984 general election, PAP put up Ng Pock Too, considered one of their strongest candidates, against JBJ in the hope of recovering Anson. In the same way they put up Mah Bow Tan against Chiam See Tong, leader of the newly formed Singapore Democratic Party. (you might like to see The Implosion of Singapore Democratic Party )Both electorates went against the PAP, and they had to wait for another 4 years before entering parliament. Mah joined the cabinet soon after, while Ng rose in the business world to head Sembawang Corp (till Philip Yeo took charge there some time before the 1997 asian financial crisis - Ng, however, lost in the 1991 general election and exitted politics).

In the cut-and-thrust of parliamentary debates and election hustles, JBJ remains the most effective of all the Singapore opposition figures I have seen, (Low Thia Kiang too can speak well, particularly in Tewchiu) but he had limited chances to use his abilities as he was repeatedly disqualified because of various legal issues that arose. Forced out of parliament in 1986, he came back as a non-electoral member of parliament in 1997 but soon got disqualified again. This part of the history is well covered by journalists so I wont repeat it here.

JBJ has just settled his debts and exitted from his status of bankrupcy, and is again able to stand for parliament. As the Workers' Party, of which he was founder and leader, had since then moved on without him, he will form a new party.

I actually saw him in person once: taking the escalator up from City Hall MRT station to go into Raffles City, I found him at the MRT entrance lobby just outside the shopping centre giving a speech on government persecution. No one stopped to listen, but he continued undeterred. I guess that will be his description till nature stops him.

His son Philip Jeyaretnam, a graduate of NUS and Harvard, is a major figure in Singapore legal circles, but has no involvement in politics. His view about dad's activities is not publicly available. It is also unknown what part he may have played in helping JBJ to be discharged from bankrupcy.

Anonymous said...

A truly great man who stood by his conviction to the end. I feel sad he did not accomplished his ultimate goal because of his untimely departure. I am sure there are those who are secretly pleased and relieved.

DeadSilence said...

It was a great fight by a good man. A man who fought hard for the good of this country. A sad day indeed for Singapore.

Anonymous said...


hugewhaleshark said...

Rest well, JBJ, for you had fought hard.

Desmond Lim said...

oh, i'm so saddened by this.

as much as the gahmen tries to paint him as a person who is not good for the country, i think he is a great man. not that i agree with everything he said but he did love singapore (for he knew singapore is NOT the PAP) and it's people and put singapore first.

you will be miss mr. jeyaretnam.

Anonymous said...

Today marks the passing of an era. We will remember the tenacity and the fighting spirit of the man even if we may not agree with his views. Rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

JBJ gave up his cushy job in the establishment to become a voice of conscience against the injustices in what he witnessed in the political culture in the late 1970s. He broke the monopoly of the PAP in 1981, and he had been a constant reminder of the naked power of the PAP government.

While I still feel that he should have retired earlier, I think we should salute his determination and passion for his beliefs.

Even though the PAP would not comment on JBJ's death, one question that his legacy has raised, is whether one would still enter the political arena if she or he has everything to lose and nothing to gain?

Our PAP MPs and ministers may have impressive CVs, but how many of them can measure up to JBJ in this respect?

Rest in peace

Liew Kai Khiun

Anonymous said...

Rest in peace JBJ..spore's father of democracy....You will be missed and never forgotten.

All the praises of you by netizens would make some people go green.

Will be seeing you soon at your wake and funeral..

jeff goh

Chris said...

he hallmark for mature parliamentary democracy is an effective opposition. When one happens in Singapore, I think that JB Jeyaretnam will be thought of as its founding father. RIP.

Vinita Ramani Mohan said...

I haven't yet read every letter, article or post about JB's passing. But so far, here is what stands out: it's a pity that not a single commentator, politician or academic in Singapore has thus far been unable to honour JB Jeyaretnam, without adding footnotes and moral lessons, reducing it to ambivalent jibberish.

It tells you a lot about a society when people cannot even honour the man's memory, his achievements, his firebrand style of politics, his relentless determination and tenacity without resorting to complaints about his "tactics" and his goals.

If JBJ concerned himself with democracy and human rights, I would say those two broad categories cover enough ground to capture all of our anxieties about Singapore and our place in this country. Why are those "narrow" concerns?

The path he prescribed isn't a discouraging one. What is discouraging is the REACTION he got. So it surpises me to see people criticising his approach as one that may leave young Singaporeans ambivalent and even unequivocally AGAINST the JBJ approach. This is squarely putting the onus on JBJ to have "got it right", and not on ourselves to have supported his struggle, or on the powers that be to engage in an equal debate/fight with an equally qualified contender.

What do all the letters, comments and luke-warm to cold articles in the mainstream press tell me?

The man has done well: even in death, people are in awe of him and are a little afraid to admit the impact he had and would have had, if he was still alive today.

There is no death and as far as many of us are concerned, the fighting spirit he embodied is one that encourages us all. Just because we don't reflect it in politics, doesn't mean we are not determined to create social change.

Things will and are changing incrementally. Nothing can stay the same indefinitely.

Don't RIP JBJ, fight it out and give us some of that fire. Fill us with it.

Thank you.

Brian said...

I had the honour of meeting Mr JBJ outside of Centrepoint and bought an autographed book from him. As a singaporean I am proud to have a true patriot like Mr JBJ.

No one should have to suffer like he did for fighting for true democracy for Singapore and human rights for singaporeans. I salute you, Mr J B Jeyaretnam !

Anonymous said...

Regardless of their political views, I am sure most S'poreans would agree the political scene has witnessed the end of a titan. This time JBJ lost not from legal lawsuits, but from the ultimate - death itself. I recall my youth, watching JBJ debate the establishment in parliament. it was more exciting than watching action or drama on TV, because JBJ stood for something. He stood for a voice in the wilderness, of the dispossessed, those who were unfairly treated, those who undeservedly suffered at work, in life (and not necessarily in politics) that has to be heard.
I was excited when he got out of bankruptcy and formed the Reform party. If only he had 3-4 more years to run again... I would have loved to see the outcome of that election.

el said...

Honestly, I know him better as the father of Mr Philip Jeyaretnam, the author of my English Literature text "Abraham's Promise". Mr JBJ's passing got me wondering again about the hint of similarity between him and the protagonist in that text..


I'm not sure if Mr JBJ can really rest in peace because of his unfinished political business.

But I'd still say, "Rest well, Sir."

kojakbt said...

The opposition has lost a determined fighter. My condolence and sympathy…. However, I’m sure JBJ in heaven would not want us to stop fighting the PAP. Let’s continue JBJ’s fight to stop the dominance of 1-party politics in Singapore. Let’s strive to bring true democracy to Singapore by encouraging Singaporeans to vote for pluralism in our politics. Feel free to join me to continue the fight at http://forums.delphiforums.com/3in1kopitiam/messages

Anonymous said...

Sometimes why i don't understand why if you not a PAP anything... means you are not a good citizen. JBJ in my eyes is a good citizen even though you carries the OPPP flag and i believe that he is a person of substance. If all those cronies who can be rewarded with whatever the NATIONAL DAY awards then this GREAT MAN deserves the highest award as well. All those cronies who got their medals did not touch any other singapore lives here and here is this GREAT FIGHTER who did touch many lives here goes un-rewarded. IT IS JUST NOT RIGHT AT ALL AND I HOPE THAT THE PRESENT GOT THE GUTS AND BE A GREATER MAN AND GIVE JBJ HIS MEDAL THAT HE TRULY DESERVE. YOU KNOW WHY, BECAUSE HE DID NOT RAN AWAY EVEN WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN.

yamizi said...

Mainstream media may have little covering for the demise of Mr Jeyaretnam but I think bloggers out there can do their bit by dedicating a post to Mr Jeyaretnam.

Anonymous said...

He was a great man. Enough said. To go through what he did for so many years, just for his ideals is incredible. How many of us would have been willing to do that? Really take my hat off to him. May he rest in peace. He went with a clear conscience. I'm sure he is with God.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read LHL's condolence letter? Very disgraceful in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

JBJ is more Sporean than any PAP MP! The reason why he won the Anson byelections is becos he understood what the layman was going thru.

Are Sporeans political cowards including myself who would only come forward to express openly how one feels about an opposition politician AFTER HE HAS DIED as you know the PAP cannot sue you in court for supporting someone whom they have fingered as a bad bad person? Did you try to protest openly when he was branded as socially unfit for politics countless times by the mighty character assassination machine of PAP.

I think the answer is yes.

Its too late now that JBJ cannot hear you or me. We still have 2 opposition MPs left. Think very carefully during the next GE on how you will be voting. Are you going to be coerced by the negative propaganda generated by PAP to dissuade you from voting Opposition? Or are you going to listen to your own convictions that the Opposition is saying something that you can relate to as a layman whereas the PAP is not interested in your interests at all?

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir JBJ,
In the Sea of Political Darkness,
You're the Only True Source of Light.
We'll miss you

Anonymous said...

There are numerous posts about the determination and perseverance of the Honourable Mr. J.B. Jeyaretnam. If only Mr. Jeyaretnam would live long enough to be a candidate for the forthcoming general elections, I believe more Singaporeans may look to him to speak for those who are not considered as "Elites", "Scholars", or needed a more empathetic Member of Parliament.

Remember, O Lord our God, this Your servant, J.B. Jeyaretnam, who now stands before You in faith and hope of eternal life. Release him from his sins. Destroy all iniquity. Pardon, loose and free him from all transgressions, voluntary and involuntary (alleged and adjudged). Save him from eternal sufferings . Grant him to enjoy and share in Your eternal happiness which You have prepared for all who love You.

Be merciful, Lord, to Your servant, J.B. Jeyaretnam. Look upon his faith rather than his works, and grant him rest amongst all your Saints. Make him a sharer of the Kingdom of heaven.

May his memory be eternal.

Sincere condolences to his sons, and their extended family. Let us pray and hope that God will Bless his sons and their family to encourage a member from the next generation, to further the steps taken by Mr. J.B. Jeyaretnam.

yuen said...

today is his funeral, but I am afraid I need to say something negative; part of my discussion


has this passage

...a group that claims to fight for democracy should first show that it knows how to organize itself democratically, and a group that criticizes the government need to explain what alternative policies and programmes it would implement if it were the government. This is necessary not just as a demonstration of competence, but also allows the other side to have the chance to criticize it in return. While asking for a level playing field is right, that the organs of the state should not be used by the party in control of it to advance party objectives, the other aspect of level playing field is there too, that one side actually has a job to do while the other side only has to talk...

while this was part of a discussion on Chee Soon Juan, I feel it is also applicable to JBJ

despite its recent successes, the Workers' Party still has the same problems - it seems to think that, as long as it survives in parliament, it is successfully "opposing"

JohnSean said...

That we might one day all have the courage to speak as he did, to fight as he has fought, to exercise our strengths as he has in what we believe in, so that our next generation can apply their freedoms without need of fear or favour, and prove in doing so, that passion and responsibility are not antithetical, as he would have wished.

Anonymous said...

Singapore has lost a hero.

Thank you, Mr. Jeyaretnam, for caring enough to fight for those who are too weak, or too afraid, to fight. You suffered unreasonably and cruelly for your courage and integrity, but know that this Singaporean thanks you for everything you've done. This is a sad day for me, as it should be, for all Singaporeans.

Amaryllis said...

My sincere condolences to his family and other loved ones. I had only one ocassion to meet Mr. Jeyaratnam, and that was when I saw him selling his book along Orchard Rd. Most people were walking past him without a moment’s glance. And so I went and bought the book, and took the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for all of his work in Singapore. It was telling that even my close friend who was with me choose to stand far away from us while I engaged with Mr. Jeyaratnam. It is sad when fear stops us from doing the right thing. I hope that all of Mr. Jeyaratnam’s struggles will be not in vain in the long run., that his actions serve as a reminder to our conscience.