By Goh Meng Seng
5th of Jan is the birthday of the belated democratic fighter, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam, better known as JBJ. I attended the commemoration gathering at Hong Lim Park this evening and gave a short speech.
My speech revolves around the theme, JBJ is the Icon of my generation, the lost generation. Why lost generation?
I am coming to 40 year old, born in 1970. My childhood was spent in the era of White Terror. Throughout my first 10 years of living, I have been “indoctrinated with fear” by my parents and elders. Whenever I talked bad about the government, they would just try to shut me up, warning me “The MATA (policemen) will come after you!”
It is no wonder my generation of peers are generally politically apathetic and will even shun me if they or their spouses work in GLC, GIC, Temasek or the civil service. There are many opposition members who are in the 20s, 35 below, 50s, 60s and even 70s, but very few at the age of 37 to 40 now.
When I attended TOC’s 2009 year end event last week, I was very impressed with the relatively huge turn out who are mostly in their 20s and early 30s. Some are older, 45 and above but I find very few who are of my own age. It hits me that my generation is burdened by the indoctrination of fear that we received during our impressionable youth. The young ones who are born in the 1980s are hardly brought up with fear deliberately instilled in them.
However, their youthfulness would also mean that they may not really know JBJ as the icon of my generation. JBJ won his as well as opposition’s FIRST electoral battle in 1981’s by elections after one and a half decade of PAP’s monopoly of power. But that was a quiet victory to the general public because the victory was not telecast live on TV.
JBJ did it again in the subsequent General Election in 1984. I believe those in their 20s now would not understand fully what it means to be a REAL VICTORY against all odds. When JBJ’s victory was announced on TV, there were screaming and cheering breaking through the night in the area where I stay. He was the man that has broken the silence of the fearful generation.
JBJ has broken the monopoly of PAP and put a dent in PAP’s myth of invincibility. This happened in an era of white terror where the majority of Singaporeans were living in fear exerted by the PAP’s ruthless demolition and massive detention without trial of its political opponents. PAP’s hatred of JBJ arises from the fact that he was the one who have broken that big egoistic myth of political invincibility in polling. But to many of us of this lost generation, he is the LIGHT to our blind fear. He has shown us that it is totally possible to win against all odds, against the ruthless tyranny of monopoly rule.
JBJ has forced the ruling party, in their very own fear of losing more seats, to start changing the electoral rules so to prolong their monopoly of power. Even change the Constitution to disallow legal appeals to the Privy Councils when JBJ won his case against the PAP government when he appealed in Privy Councils. ironically, it was PAP’s fear of losing any seats to JBJ that made them did so many things which disgust many people like me.
Notably, the introduction of pork barrel politics of HDB upgrading in 1997 and the amendment of the GRC system to further expand them in sizes, contradicting the very principle of “appropriate minority representation” that the GRC was first argued for implementation. As a voter of Cheng San GRC which was contested by JBJ’s team, I was literally held hostage by the PAP with the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong threatening us that there will be no HDB upgrading for us if we do not vote for PAP. Our rubbish chutes will pile up. We will have last priority even in lift rescue services as compared to other PAP wards.
JBJ’s team attracted ALL the heavy weights ministers from PAP to contest in Cheng San0 GRC. PM Goh personally declared that he was putting his reputation and stake into the fight in Cheng San. Then the SM Lee Kuan Yew stepped in, followed by his Son. It was then, my political awakening was invoked thoroughly.
All these events that happened against JBJ have made me realized that as long as PAP is in power, it will forever, for its own political self interests, hold Singaporeans hostage with whatever “weapons” they have when it comes to voting. They will continue to instill fear in Singaporeans by holding us hostage. They will continue to disregard the basic fundamental political rights of Singaporeans.
The most important question that I have asked myself is, do I want my children and future generations continue to live in the very fear that my generation has lived through? Do I want them to continue to be held hostage by such self-serving ruling party? Always have that invisible hand that will always be on their throats, threaten to strangle them if they do not vote for them? Or just choke them to silence? Absolute not. There are only two options left for me if I do not want that to happen. Either I save enough money and emigrate out of this place or I stay back to fight to effect change to this political system, all for my future generations. I decided to stay back and fight for change eventually.
I have lent my torchlight to the speakers who speak tonight for reading their scripts. This very torchlight has the privilege of shining through every words of tribute that the speakers have made. JBJ was and forever will be the torchlight of my fearful generation.
JBJ might have left us but his fighting spirit to change Singapore has not died. We should continue to fight for change, not merely from the electoral battles, but also to effect change to the general mindset of Singaporeans. Fight for the Change of the mindset of my Lost Generation as well as your generation. WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW OURSELVES AND OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO BE HELD HOSTAGE BY THE PAP! We should liberate ourselves from the knuckle dusters and fear created by the PAP. The only way is to break their monopoly of power which will break their arrogance into humility.
I hope, with the torch that shines on everybody that is present tonight, we could carry on the legacy that is left by JBJ. Not everyone will choose the path of front line politics but everyone could do their part in talking to their peers, their families and friends about the need to change our sterile mindset in order to liberate from PAP’s ransom seeking.
I also hope that all my readers would do the same. For the sake of ourselves and our future generations, we should start asking ourselves whether we want our children to continue living in the very political fear that we have gone through.
My generation has lost the opportunity to really appreciate the democratic light that JBJ has shed on us. But I hope the younger generations which have experienced less indoctrination of political fear in their lifetime, would continue to effect the change that JBJ has worked so hard in his whole life to initiate.
The future lies in our hands.
Goh Meng Seng