05 October 2008

J B Jeyaretnam: The iconography begins

PAP leaders and the Straits Times have been disgraceful in the way they responded to the death of opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam. The Straits Times called him "irrelevant". Was he? Will he be? How long before memory and significance fades? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

I was waiting for your views and comments on Mr JB Jeyaretnam after I read the so call condolence letter in the press. Your article spoke my thoughts. I was there to hear his election time speeches. Mr JBJ will be remembered vividly by people of my generation. He will live on in the articles such as yours and others on the internet.

Anonymous said...

The PAP has always been very low class. We see it in every election. The condolence letter from mini lee is a total disgrace.

yuen said...

I think the Jeyaratnam iconography started long ago, by his own actions actually: he symbolized the continued existence of a political opposition despite the government’s monopoly of power and economic resources. The street theatre of SDP, and the cautious stance of WP in parliament, represent the same idea – “just being able to ‘keep up the fight’ is already a kind of success”.

As far as I can recall, JBJ did not speak out in the recent major political debates – anti-terrorism measures, allowing casinos, legalization of homosexuality, annuity... Maybe reporters would not seek him out and letters to the press might not be published, but there were web forums and blogs, including this one, where anyone could express views.

I do not recall seeing any statement from LKY on JBJ's passing - I guess for him it was a non-event. In view of your criticisms of the messages from LHL and GCT, you think it would be better if they also kept quiet?

tewniaseng said...

This white horse PM talked nonsense.Who abolished Anson smc ? Who created GRC to stop opposition from contesting ? Who destroy who ? Who is the coward ? At least Mr JBJ left peacefully without owing Pap a single cent.Those with billions in bank acc, can they bring it to heaven or hell ?

Chee Wai Lee said...

In response to Prof Yuen, I'd say that senior members of the PAP would have a tough time trying to say anything appropriate other than "Sorry for your loss" and just leave it as that.

Had they not actively demonized and crushed him, politically and economically, they would at least have been able to say: "We've had our differences in policy opinion and we celebrate his work towards a better Singaporean society."

So, yah, saying nothing would probably have been the second-best thing any senior PAP member could have done. The best, imho, would have been to offer a simple one-line statement of sympathy.

LHL and GCT made the classic mistake that we, as students, used to make in your Operating Systems examination essays - say too much. Gave you all the extra opportunity to dock points for obvious contradictions we introduce in unnecessary embellishments of facts. If sympathy was the thrust of their message, they certainly failed.

Anonymous said...

LHL tends to start his speeches and gets carried away like a runaway train (eg the 'fix the oppostion' episode and 'mee siam mai hum' episode) and that has perhaps been the trait in his writing as well.

To almost everybody on the internet, he was saying more of the unneccessary and less of the neccessary in his letter of condolence. Quite surprising for a polician who is well schooled in Public Admiministration. Or perhaps too well schooled?

yuen said...

> Gave you all the extra opportunity to dock points for obvious contradictions we introduce in unnecessary embellishments of facts

I am afraid this shows two misunderstdings: first, I dont think LHL and GCT "lost points" with their self flattering statements - this might be the case with Yawningbread type of voters, but it works with their own supporters, and perhaps more useful for their purpose, with the foreign media; it was in fact their one chance to get their particular version of the story out, to mitigate their harsh treatment of JBJ and other opposition figures and reinforce their "we are meritocratic and we are on top because we are better" message

second, I dont grade exam papers in the way you describe

Anonymous said...

'Irrelevant!' It is ironic that the Mainstream media aka Straits Time chose this word to describe J.B. Jeyaretnam. In fact, this word is best used to described them instead. A propaganda mouth-piece which is unbashly pro-govt and panders to their need for self-gratification.
Even after his death, instead of giving him dignity, SM Goh PM Lee chose to glorify themselves '...painting themselves as principled and magnanimous.' Crap!
Being Human & Forgiving! It's totally absent in the PAP's vocabulary. Without these values, I don't see any PAP leaders transcending to perpetual remembrance nor spoken with any great fondness! The difference between humankind and beasts is that humans forgive & move on but beasts do not.

Anonymous said...

Well said, but I do hope history will be kinder to JBJ and not forget him (as well as Lim Chin Siong) in spite of the lies said about him. He won twice in Anson hands down, without resorting to buying votes with preferential HDB upgrading, gerrymandering, creating GRC etc and he paid the price for his actions either in jail or being a bankrupt until recently. He could have given up and left, like Tang LH, Francis Siow and so many others.
BTW, if you can find someone to print that icon of JBJ as Che Guervara on T-shirts, I'll make a few advance orders.

Anonymous said...

Is this it?

Veteran opposition politican J. B. Jeyaretnam, died early on Tuesday just
days before a constitutional challenge he hoped would propel him back into
parliament, his family said.

Mr Jeyaretnam, 82, died at about 1.30am from a heart attack at his son's
home in Singapore, a relative told the AFP from the family home in Johor
Bahru, Malaysia.

Earlier, he had complained of breathing difficulty.

He was rushed to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Mr Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, recently formed the Reform Party to challenge the
more than 40-year rule of the People's Action Party, which was founded by
former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

One of the rare few to speak out against the Government, he made political
history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to

He was unable to contest the 2006 general election after he was made
bankrupt in 2001 for failing to pay S$265,000 in defamation damages to then
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. He was discharged from bankruptcy in May last

Mr Jeyaretnam was to appear in the High Court on Oct 15 to seek an order
that a by-election be held for a seat that is currently vacant.

Ms G. K. Pamela, another of Jeyaretnam's relatives, said the court challenge
was related to Jeyaretnam's desire to enter parliament again.

'That was his wish,' she told AFP in tears.

'Such a good man. Why did God take him?'

Singapore Democratic Party activist Chee Siok Chin said she was shocked at
the veteran opposition figure's death.

'There's no doubt about it. Mr Jeyaretnam has been the icon of the
opposition here and it's a great loss,' she said.

Mr Jeyaretnam made his final political comeback earlier this year to form
the new opposition party.

He left the Workers' Party (WP) after years at its helm and was succeeded by
Mr Low Thia Khiang, who is now MP for Hougang.

When he broke the PAP's 15-year monopoly of the Parliament in 1981, most of
today's young Singaporeans were not even born yet.

After losing his parliamentary seat in 1986 for making a false declaration
of the WP accounts, he spent a month in jail and was fined S$5,000. Mr
Jeyaretnam spent most of the last two decades battling outside the

Of the five General Elections since then, he has contested only once, in
1997.He finished as top loser through the bruising Cheng San GRC bout,
earning a 45.2 per cent of the valid votes.

That brought him back into the House as a Non-Constituency MP, a brief
tenure that ended in 2001, when he was declared a bankrupt for failing to
pay after losing a defamation suit against five Indian PAP MPs, among

When he left his 30-year-long WP vehicle in that same year, after accusing
his successor Low of not helping him clear his debts, he was effectively
banished to the margins of the opposition scene here.

* Yet, the old warhorse refused to believe that he was irrelevant to
Singaporeans. *

Mr Jeyaretnam's niece, who gave her name only as Kavinia, said he had not
been feeling well for the past three weeks.

But as recently as July, when he hosted a dinner to launch his new party, Mr
Jeyaretnam still appeared strong.

Sporting his usual lamb-chop style sideburns, Mr Jeyaretnam stood before the
crowd and, in typical style, spoke for almost an hour.

'Come, walk with me, let us walk together... for peace, justice, truth...
fearing no one except God,' he had urged the gathering.

Mr Jeyaretnam is survived by two sons, Kenneth and Philip. His wife,
Margaret, whom he had met when they were law students in Britain, died of
breast cancer a year before he was elected to Parliament in 1981.

-- With additional reporting from AFP.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anon 7 Oct , 17:28 -

Yes, that's it. Thanks.

Chee Wai Lee said...

Prof Yuen,

You are right, it is possible they are indeed trying to preach to the choir. That early ST forum (Oct 1 or Oct 3 I think) post lauding the "condolence" letter seemed to indicate at least one success.

As to the second point. I do apologize. I stated, as fact, an old college joke about your grading style (based very loosely on observations of the "check marks" on our returned transcripts) in the comment.

KiWeTO said...

"If I Had More Time I Would Write a Shorter Letter"

- Mark Twain


The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.
~BLAISE PASCAL, Pensées, The Provincial Letters, provincial letter 16, p. 571 (1941).

Our appointed leaders might do well to go back to school to relearn that point alone.

Or maybe, the outraged are just so jaded and cynical they won't even post anything to the local daily anymore.