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

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A Singapore Hero

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 3, 2008

Singapore lost a man yesterday whose life reflected the best of the city-state. He suffered under the Japanese World War II occupation of the island; earned a place at the British bar; devoted himself to his work, family and faith; and forewent personal wealth to fight for democratic ideals in public office.

No, we’re not talking about the country’s founder and longtime Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, for whom much of the above is true. Yesterday Singapore lost its pre-eminent opposition leader, Joshua B. Jeyaretnam.

The ruling People’s Action Party liked to paint Mr. Jeyaretnam as a communist, but he was more a moderate social democrat who spoke of his “calling as a Christian” and talked of “social justice.” His economic ideas — a welfare state and a minimum wage — struck a chord among some voters, as did his message that an overcentralized government could be harmful.

“JBJ” entered politics in Singapore in 1971, when he joined the Workers’ Party. At the time, he was a wealthy lawyer who vacationed in Europe and had a maid and driver. He contested the 1972 and 1976 elections and lost to the PAP, which held every seat in Parliament.

Mr. Jeyaretnam soon had his first legal run-in with the PAP. In 1976, he lost a defamation suit brought by Mr. Lee over a speech the opposition leader gave at a campaign rally. To pay the damages, Mr. Jeyaretnam sold his house and moved into a rented apartment.

Over the years he was repeatedly sued by PAP leaders, and repeatedly bankrupted as a result of the judgments against him. But the convictions didn’t stop him from winning public office, which he did in 1981, becoming the sole opposition MP elected to Parliament, and again in 1984 and 1997. During a 1986 inquiry into whether he had violated parliamentary privilege by questioning the integrity of judges, Mr. Jeyaretnam asked Mr. Lee, “So, do you think I have to be destroyed?” “Politically, yes,” Mr. Lee responded. In his autobiography, Mr. Lee called his old opponent “a poseur, always seeking publicity, good or bad.”

Mr. Jeyaretnam lost his seat in 1986 and was disbarred after being convicted of mishandling party funds. In 1988, the Privy Council in London overturned Mr. Jeyaretnam’s disbarment, concluding that through a series of “misjudgements” Mr. Jeyaretnam had suffered “grevious injustice.” The Law Lords found that JBJ and a colleague “have been fined, imprisoned and publicly disgraced for offences of which they were not guilty.” In 2001, JBJ lost another libel suit, became bankrupt, and was disqualified from running for re-election to Parliament.

Yet to the end, Mr. Jeyaretnam was never cowed by a fight. When he paid off his debts last year, he was readmitted to the bar and soon took on controversial cases, including the defense of another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, who, like JBJ, had lost a defamation suit brought by Mr. Lee. Mr. Jeyaretnam leaves behind a small group of opposition leaders, including two members of Parliament and a rowdy blogosphere of Singaporeans who agitate for more freedoms.

At the time of his death, Mr. Jeyaretnam, who was 82, was gearing up to contest for office again. At a press conference in April to announce the news, he said: “We are just beginning!”

 

Source: Wall Street Journal

 

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