The late J.B. Jeyaretnam scored electoral victories not by pandering to the establishment or molly-coddling the masses, but by exciting and inspiring the masses, and challenging the establishment with credibility and force of character.
Short Notes from the Editor
28 December 2009
In his no-holes-barred masterpiece Requiem for an unbending Singaporean, former President C.V. Devan Nair recounted how, after J.B. Jeyaretnam had won the 1981 Anson by-election, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that he would make him “crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy“.
But the former Worker’s Party leader was made of far sterner stuff, and in Devan Nair’s own words, “he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy, and it is to Lee Kuan Yew’s eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee.”
Despite having unjustly lost his Anson seat soon after the 1984 general elections due to a high court conviction for falsifying party accounts that was subsequently overturned by a late 1980s Privy Council judgment, and despite being subject to ad hominems like being called a “mangy dog” by Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament, J.B. Jeyaretnam soldered on with the opposition cause. He served the Worker’s Party with even greater vigour than before, and he played a very significant role in helping Low Thia Khiang win the Hougang seat in 1991, a seat that the latter has retained to this day.
Starting from 1988, J.B. Jeyaretnam faced numerous defamation suits brought on by PAP leaders, ranging from issues such as calling for an investigation as to how the late Minister for National Development, Teh Cheang Wan, had obtained the tablets with which he had committed suicide, to articles he wrote in The Hammer, the Workers’ Party newspaper, to remarks he made at an election rally in 1997 concerning Mr Tang Liang Hong.
But this torrent of lawsuits, his subsequent bankruptcy, and his resignation from the WP in late 2001 as a result of having been ostracized by the colleagues with whom he had worked for so many years did not break JBJ’s spirit. He spend years selling books at City Hall and managed to get himself discharged from bankruptcy in May 2007. Thereafter, he registered the Reform Party in 2008 together with a few long time colleagues and supporters.
Above all, J.B. Jeyaretnam was a man who tested and stretched the limits of our political system, and in so doing, revealed the flawed ways in which the PAP has governed Singapore not in the nation’s interest or with the welfare and dignity of the citizens in mind, but in its own interest.
JBJ was a man who was extremely conversant in bread-and-butter issues, and he was also someone who clearly understood the need to reform our political system and restore to all citizens their rights as guaranteed by our constitution if we are to make real progress as a nation.
Unfortunately today, some people are being mislead by the mainstream media into thinking that JBJ was nothing but a rabble rouser who practiced nothing but confrontational politics in the negative sense. They forget the immense work he was trying to do to tease out the flaws in our system and mobilize the people to challenge the PAP. They forget that the PAP has evolved a sophisticated system to deal with people like him who dare to stand up to them and point out what has gone wrong. They forget that it is the PAP who is to be blamed for setting up this oppressive regime, and not JBJ who is to be blamed for correctly identifying and challenging the oppression.
The late J.B. Jeyaretnam is revered by opposition supporters because he was a man who was thoroughly consistent in what he stood for, and because he spoke to both the minds and the hearts of voters
He scored electoral victories not by pandering to the establishment or molly-coddling the masses, but by exciting and inspiring the masses, and challenging the establishment with credibility and force of character.
He has left a deep void in opposition politics — a void that has not yet been filled.