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

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Singapore veteran opposition politician dies

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 1, 2008

SINGAPORE, Sept 30 – Singapore opposition figure J.B. Jeyaretnam, who died on Tuesday at the age of 82, was remembered as a colourful and dogged character in the country’s often staid politics.

In 1981, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, popularly known as JBJ, was the first opposition politician to break Singapore’s ruling party’s monopoly in parliament.

He died early on Tuesday at a local hospital of heart failure.

Jeyaretnam, an acerbic critic of the ruling People’s Action Party , was repeatedly sued by senior PAP members over his 37-year career for making comments the PAP said were libelous.

He was sporadically bankrupted, a status that barred him from standing for parliament.

In June this year, he won approval to set up the Reform Party after paying off S$265,000 in defamation damages.

Jeyaretnam said he was “over the moon” with the new party, which would “reform the system of government, all sectors of society”.

“He was so happy when he got the approval. He said ‘Come, it’s on me. Lunch.'” said Gopal Prabha, a party member and a Jeyaretnam supporter for nearly 30 years.

Scores of people drifted into the funeral parlour where Jeyaretnam’s body laid on Tuesday night, while a continuous stream of wreathes were delivered, including from legal firms and government agencies. The funeral is set to be held on Saturday.

Ng Teck Siong, chairman of the Reform Party, who has known JBJ for over a decade, said: “He believed what was right and wrong for Singapore and he wanted to bring change. He never gave up.”

The PAP has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965.

Over the years, Jeyaretnam paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in defamation damages to PAP leaders. Critics say PAP politicians use legal action to crush opposition, but party leaders say libel suits are necessary to protect their reputations.

Jeyaretnam jousted with the PAP’s founder and Singapore’s most powerful politician Lee Kuan Yew in parliament in the 1980s.

“Aren’t you a bit annoyed because I don’t crawl to you?” he asked Lee during a parliamentary committee meeting in 1985.

Lee in turn in his memoirs called Jeyaretnam a “sparring partner” who was “all sound and fury”.

Lee’s successor Goh Chok Tong, now Singapore’s Senior Minister, said in a statement that while he and Jeyaretnam were on different sides of the fence politically, they kept up a personal relationship.

Goh, who in 1997 had also successfully sued Jeyaretnam for defamation, said in the tribute to his late rival: “What do I remember or respect most about Mr J B Jeyaretnam?

“Even though I did not agree with his political cause, I respect his fighting spirit to advance it and his willingness to pay a price for it.”

Born in Sri Lanka and trained as a lawyer in London, Jeyaretnam championed more freedom for ordinary Singaporeans, and wanted the Southeast Asian country to have a Western-style democracy.

His repeated run-ins with the government alienated him from many Singaporeans, but he still pursued his cause and in recent years was regularly seen at the entrances of shopping malls selling his books to raise funds.

“The PAP would like to let it be known that Jeyaretnam wants to destroy everything we’ve got here,” he told the Straits Times newspaper in January.

“All I want to do is to give the people a chance to live their own lives … and not have everything dictated to them.”

Source: Reuters

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