In remembrance of a Singapore Patriot – Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (1926 – 2008)

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Mr Impossible of Singapore politics

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 1, 2008

P N BALJI
editorial director
balji@mediacorp.com.sg

WHATEVER the lens one uses to analyse Mr J B Jeyaretnam’s 37-year political career — whether it is that of supporter or detractor, friend or foe — there is likely to be agreement on two fronts:

That he created political history in Singapore by winning the Anson by-election in 1981 thus breaking the 16-year People’s Action Party’s monopoly in Parliament. The Opposition has never looked back since, increasing its size in Parliament to two, then to four and now back to two MPs.

That he was a fearless warrior, one who never gave up even in the face of attacks in Parliament, libel suits and bankruptcy charges.

Opinions will start differing once you start analysing JBJ’s style of politics and asking whether he could have done more to spread the Opposition’s presence in Parliament.

For a long time, JBJ was a one-manbulldozer fighting for what he saw as greater justice, more rights and a more caring society.  He didn’t succeed in putting together a cohesive force to challenge the might of the PAP.

Not for want of trying, though.

Attempts to bring in firebrands like Francis Seow (in Eunos GRC in 1988) and Tang Liang Hong (in Cheng San GRC in 1997) saw some of the worst knuckle-duster election battles modern Singapore has seen, with both of them eventually fleeing the country.

But he did succeed, partly at least, withMr Low Thia Khiang who eventually became the leader of the Workers’ Party.  Here again, there was no happy ending with JBJ leaving the party he led for close to 37 years.

JBJ believed in being a raging bull in Parliament with the entire armoury of the ruling party aimed at him. But Mr Low decided that longevity in politics is important and so chose to concentrate on constituency politics, playing a very understated role in Parliament.

Getting into Parliament seemed to be JBJ’s mission in life. So much so that, although he was against the Non-Constituency MP scheme which he criticised as a back-door entry for the Opposition into Parliament, he decided to take up the offer after he and his GRC team lost the Cheng San seat by a whisker in 1997. That ended four years later when he was declared a bankrupt, and all his attempts after that to get back were futile.

For those who believed in the man and his politics, that unrealised dream will linger on. For others, he will remain the Mr Impossible of Singapore politics.
Source: TODAY

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