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

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Obituary: Joshua Jeyaretnam

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 11, 2008

Lawyer and activist, he was for many years the only political opposition to Singapore’s rulers

By Geoffrey Robertson

Joshua “Ben” Jeyaretnam, who has died aged 82, was for many years Singapore’s only political opposition, standing courageously for universal values of fairness and free speech against Lee Kuan Yew’s “Asian values” of hierarchical order, public submissiveness and government by the fittest – that is himself, his son and his People’s Action party (PAP). Jeyaretnam, as leader of the Workers’ party, was regularly persecuted, briefly imprisoned and ultimately bankrupted by colonial libel and contempt laws, but he continued his struggle to make Singapore a more open society.

Born into an Anglican family of Christian-Tamil descent in then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he was educated at St Andrew’s school, Singapore, during the Japanese occupation and won, via a correspondence course, a place to study law at University College London. There, a lecture by Nye Bevan inspired his early socialist beliefs. They were put on hold while he developed a successful legal practice back in Singapore, where he became increasingly angered by the PAP government’s attacks on trade unions. So in 1971 he made his political move, joining the Workers’ party, which was at that time moribund through lack of effective leadership.

His first electoral attempts failed, but his mild criticisms of the government, delivered in a deep and booming voice from the hustings, infuriated Lee Kuan Yew, who in 1978 attempted to crush him with a libel case. In court, with the help of his wife, dying of cancer, and of John Mortimer QC acting pro bono, Ben survived, albeit much poorer from the libel damages, to fight another day. That day came in 1981, when the electors of the constituency of Anson stood up to PAP threats to cut their public utilities and elected Ben as Singapore’s first opposition MP.

This victory was the trigger for a long-running campaign to diminish and then destroy him. He was forced to pay the Kuan Yews and other PAP grandees for criticisms that would scarcely raise eyebrows in real democracies, and was fined for contempt of parliament for making allegations of the kind commonly made by MPs in other countries: he estimated he had paid out more than 1.6m Singapore dollars in damages and costs. His bankruptcies disqualified him for several periods from parliament and no shops would stock his books: he was forced to sell them on street corners.

Ironically, it was the PAP government’s obsession with destroying – rather than merely defeating – its opponents which led it to overplay its hand. Not content with having him convicted, bankrupted, and expelled from parliament, its obsession with humiliating him led it in 1987 to take away his right to practise law. But it failed to notice an obscure clause in the Legal Practitioners Act, which permitted an appeal by a debarred solicitor to the privy council in London.

It was there that the whole trumped-up series of charges against Ben unravelled. The English law lords reviewed the case and voiced a devastating condemnation of the Singapore judges who had handled it, expressing “deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgments” Ben and his co-accused had suffered a grievous injustice.

The Singapore government responded by abolishing all appeals to the privy council, and still adamantly refuses to sign any human rights treaty which would permit any more decisions of its courts to be appealed to an international tribunal. But the privy council judgment in Jeyaretnam’s case still resounds, as a warning to other judges tempted to fail in their task of standing up for the subject against the state.

For the last 40 years, Ben pointed out Singapore’s democratic deficit. His speeches were not properly reported in the Straits Times, and any foreign newspaper that interviewed him risked having its circulation cut to 400 copies and sold only in tourist hotels. His voice was loudest in 1988 when Lee and son (the latter as home affairs minister) detained for two years without trial 20 young Catholic youth workers, lawyers and playwrights accused of participation in a “Marxist plot”.

They were tortured by use of what Lee junior (now Singapore’s prime minister) described as “psychological pressure” to extract confessions – dressed in cotton pyjamas, they were blasted for hours with freezing cold air conditioners. With organisations such as Amnesty banned from Singapore, Ben’s voice was important in exposing the cruelty of their treatment.

Ben felt that many western criticisms of Singapore were misplaced. They focused on laws against jay-walking, urinating in public and dropping chewing gum wrappers. The real concern was that the PAP had turned the city state into an ersatz democracy by suppressing well-intentioned dissent, and even the reporting of such dissent, in order to maintain its monopoly of power. His views were set out in a book in 2003 by Chris Lydgate that serves as his biography: Lee’s Law – How Singapore Crushes Dissent.

Ben was never in any realistic sense Lee’s rival for national leadership. With his tailored waistcoat, watch chain and mutton-chop whiskers, he looked the model of a Gladstonian Liberal, but voters who wanted their monorails to run on time preferred PAP precision to the shambolic Workers’ party. Nonetheless, the persecution he stoically suffered gave his life a significance it would not otherwise have had.

The PAP, which has ruled Singapore since 1965, still holds 82 of the 84 elected seats in parliament. Ben lost his seat in 2001, bankrupt again because he could not pay another $367,000 libel judgment to Lee and son.

However, on emerging from bankruptcy earlier this year, he helped to form the Reform party and announced that he would once again stand for parliament, in an attempt to give Singapore “rights that are most essential to our well-being: the right to speak up freely, the right to tell the government that the way things are going is wrong”.

Ben’s wife, Margaret, whom he met when studying law in London, died in 1980. He is survived by two sons, Kenneth, an economist, and Philip, a poet and president of the Law Society of Singapore. The privy council’s recommendation that the Singapore government make amends for his wrongful conviction has, of course, been ignored.

A future generation will understand that Ben deserves not only to be pardoned, but to be honoured.

• Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, lawyer and politician, born January 5 1926; died September 30 2008

Source: The Guardian

 

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A revisionist death in Singapore

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 11, 2008

By Terence Chong

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the first opposition party candidate to be elected a member of parliament in Singapore, died of heart failure on September 30, aged 82. [1]

SINGAPORE – The passing of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, Singapore’s best-known opposition politician, may not have been psychologically seismic enough to prompt Singapore’s middle classes to search their souls, but it did offer an insight into how Singaporean institutions simultaneously constructed and sanitized his life for national memory.

Certainly, the manipulation of personal narratives by the state and its apparatuses is not new, a nation-building process that constructs heroes and demons for citizens to revere and despise. To this end, the way the Singapore media and some members of the government chose to interpret the live and ideology of JBJ, as he is fondly referred to, is a reflection of how it sees opposition politics, society and, ultimately, the Singapore nation.

Reading through the numerous media reports of plaudits and  memories that various prominent people have of JBJ, and the way his death was covered, it is clear how he was posthumously reconstructed: as a fighter, a man of idealism and passion, and one who never gave up no matter how insurmountable the obstacles or opponents.

Comments in the national broadsheet, The Straits Times, included quotes from the dominant People’s Action Party (PAP), one lawmaker observing that “He was like the Chinese doll, the bu dao weng – you knock him down, he comes back, you knock him down, he comes back up again.”

Another PAP parliamentarian noted, “I have admiration for people like him, a person who never gives up, a person who suffered for his convictions, and who goes down fighting all the way.” Why he needed to be knocked down over and over again, or go down fighting, was expediently left out of the reports.

A columnist of the same newspaper noted that “when both your friends and political enemies use the same descriptions of you, you can be sure they are true. In Mr Jeyaretnam’s case, sincerity, tenacity and courage are words many have used to describe him.” Other words that could have been cited include social justice, human rights, martyr and PAP hegemony, but you didn’t see them used in the media.

In a way, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s silence about JBJ’s death has been the most honest reaction so far. The mutual dislike between the two men was real, with Lee infamously promising to leave his rival on “bended knee”. Lee’s lack of a condolence message may seem uncharitable to some, but it is, at least, a dignified stance and more importantly spares JBJ’s family and Singaporeans a public display of crocodile tears.

Of course, if the construction of JBJ is but a careful cherry-picking of the man’s beliefs and actions, then his persona may have been turned into an ideological site to fulfill a specific purpose. In Singapore’s politics, despite the country’s economic success and material affluence, the one nagging concern amongst citizens and politicians alike has been the price of that success.

Political apathy, ignorance of national history, over-dependence on the state, and crass materialism winning out over idealism have all been perennial tropes in countless public forums and conferences dealing with local politics. The flight of talented Singaporeans overseas, adding to the estimated 150,000 already abroad, is another side-effect of economic success.

JBJ had always been the embodiment of idealism, but he was often portrayed as naive and full of rhetoric against the better-grounded, pragmatic and dependable – and ruling – PAP. As an idealist, JBJ was seen by the authorities as unsuitable for the technocratic demands of modern-day governance. It was precisely the authorities’ response to his idealism and passion for what he believed in that made him a walking, talking reminder for Singaporeans to stay out of politics. As the embodiment of idealism, he was deemed politically irrelevant.

Now, after his death, when his response is no longer possible, this embodiment can be fashioned for the purpose of nation-building. It was never the case that JBJ was irrelevant, rather he was inconvenient. Now that the negative connotations that came with his idealism are purged, leaving only opaque words like sincerity, tenacity and courage, the man can now be rehabilitated for national memory. We can now co-opt his idealism and passion for our own agenda.

And so we sanitize him. We speak of him as a fighter, but not what he fought for – pluralist democracy, human rights and press freedom. We speak of his great struggles, but not what he struggled against – PAP hegemony, authoritarianism, the use of punitive lawsuits in politics and so on. He was a fighter in a vacuum; he struggled against the unspoken; and JBJ is well on his way to becoming an abstract museum artifact in the halls of our national memory.

All nation-building projects are exercises in cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Cognitive dissonance comes about when one’s beliefs do not match reality, resulting in a modification of these personal beliefs because reality is harder to change than beliefs. And so too with nation-building: historical events and personalities cannot be totally erased, but they can, and often are, redefined and reinterpreted to match the beliefs and values of dominant interests.

If this were to happen to JBJ, then Singapore’s loss would be aggravated. We would not only have lost the man, but also his values. We would have allowed his life, his struggles, and his beliefs to be redefined and reinterpreted by the very institutions he confronted.

Terence Chong is a fellow at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Note:
1. Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, served as an MP for the Workers’ Party of Singapore from 1981-86, and again from 1997-2001. He was a continual barb in the flesh of the ruling People’s Action Party. In the course of his political career, he faced numerous court cases involving defamation suits and other charges, which led to his disbarment, disqualification from contesting elections, and bankruptcy, from which he was discharged last year. He leaves two sons and four grandsons.

(Republished with the permission of OpinionAsia, www.opinionasia.org)

Source: Asia Times

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JB – principled till the end

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 7, 2008

THE death of Singapore opposition leader Joshua Benjamin (JB) Jeyaretnam of a heart attack at the age of 82 on Sept 30, almost went unnoticed here. To many Malaysians, his was a familiar yet distant name as we were pre-occupied with our own affairs than to be bothered by the thorn in Lee Kuan Yew’s side for 30 years.

But to others – Singaporeans and Malaysians who cared enough – Jeyaretnam was the epitome of a principled man who could have struck gold by shutting his mouth and crossing the divide; but decided that he would want to be remembered as a person who stuck to his guns, no matter how anal and irrelevant some may perceive him to be.

Former premier Goh Chok Tong in his condolence message puts Jeyaretnam’s life and character into perspective: “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.”

As Singapore’s only other opposition member (leading the Workers’ Party), Jeyaretnam’s role to many, especially non-Singaporeans, was a paradox. What was his beef with the government of a country which has among the world’s highest per capita income, a civil service that works with almost clock-work precision and an administration that is run almost graft-free?

If he were Malaysian, Jeyaretnam would have his work cut out for him, thanks to one scandal after another, a lethargic civil service which is just turning the corner and transparency and accountability still buzz words and nothing more than a syllabus of the National Integrity Institute.

Our own Lim Kit Siang would have gone mad with boredom if he was in the Singapore opposition!

Friends and colleagues alike have always compared Malaysia with Singapore and to some of our politicians too, the little speck at the foot of the peninsula is a gnawing reminder of what Malaysia could have become had it adopted the sole principle that Singapore did to make it a leading global player – meritocracy.

Perhaps this is why instead of lawatan sambil belajar down south which the current Selangor government had embarked on, others are turning away from the best examples available at our doorstep, to venture to far flung places like Mauritius to study toilets.

“I would gladly give up my right to vote if the government can guarantee the kind of life that Singaporeans lead and especially an education system that is par excellence,” said one colleague.

“They have it all – unparalleled economic strength, a civil service that puts the people first and transparent procedures wanting of any bureaucracy or avenues for corruption,” said another.

With such favourable perceptions on the island republic, it was quite clear why the likes of Jeyaretnam were a pain to the Singapore government.

The Singapore that was painted by Jeyaretnam was like Wisteria Lane in Desperate Housewives, where beneath all that clinical hygiene, robot precision, competency to a fault and contented, smiling faces, was a sentiment of repression, disquiet and a general sense of foreboding. A welling emotion of wanting to listen to something different, and also to be heard.

Any dissent and talk of alternative ideas and options were quickly – and at times ruthlessly – silenced. Amendments to laws were fast-tracked to give the ruling party an upper hand. This, Jeyaretnam learnt bitterly in a slander suit brought against him by Kuan Yew.

His avenue for appeal to the Privy Council was shut as Parliament amended the law regarding appeals to the Privy Council a few years earlier when the Privy Council reinstated Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, to the Bar. (He was disbarred following a conviction for false declaration of his party accounts that saw him jailed for a month and fined S$5,000.)

With everything he uttered against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) becoming fodder for a defamation suit by its leaders, Jeyaretnam ultimately became a bankrupt.

Adding to the misery, Jeyaretnam was also treated like a pariah. Corporations and legal firms would not touch him with a 10-foot pole, prompting Chok Tong to issue a letter to Jeyaretnam’s lawyer sons Kenneth and Philip, after they complained that legal firms in the republic were reluctant to hire them.

Chok Tong’s letter, among others, says that although he and Jeyaretnam had political differences, Kenneth and Philip, like all Singaporeans, must have a place in the island state.

What is the likelihood of our own leaders being so magnanimous? That’s anyone’s guess.

Speaking of magnanimity, even his enemies could not help but speak of Jeyaretnam with the highest regard – albeit with difficulty as mirrored in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s condolence message: “… perhaps it was because he and the PAP never saw eye to eye on any major political issue and he sought by all means to demolish the PAP and our system of government. Unfortunately, this helped neither to build up a constructive opposition nor our Parliamentary tradition. Nevertheless, one had to respect Mr JB Jeyaretnam’s dogged tenacity to be active in politics at his age.”

It is comforting to those who knew him personally that just 11 days before he died, the long-suffering Jeyaretnam had something to smile about. Following his discharge as a bankrupt in May, he was reinstated as a lawyer by the High Court on Sept 19.

Asked by reporters outside the court house what was next for him, Jeyaretnam, perhaps comprehending his age and frail health, replied: “A trip to Mars!”

His wit was pronounced in the books and articles he authored. Sadly, many Singaporeans had limited access to Jeyaretnam’s musings as his speeches are not covered by the mainstream media, while publishers have refused to publish his books. Bookstores too would not sell much less display his books. Thus, the man regarded as Singapore’s conscience cut a forlorn figure hawking his books and Workers’ Party publication The Hammer, at bus and train stations.

But in Malaysia though, Make It Right for Singapore was a bestseller – testimony that he also inspired many Malaysians to expect more from their own government.

 

Source: The Sun

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JBJ, History will be a lot kinder to you

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

By Tan Wee Cheng

I attended the ceremony today October 4, at the historic St Andrew’s Cathedral. I have never completely agreed with all his ideas when I first listened to his debates in Parliament in the 1980’s. But over the years, frequent travel as well as years living overseas have opened my mind and allowed me to critically examine life and politics in this country.

In my opinion, JBJ is an extraordinary son of Singapore, who had undertaken enormous courage to confront a system that is so overwhelmingly crushing and harsh, in order to defend his belief in fundamental democracy and freedom. For his perseverence, he had suffered greatly and yet remained unmoved, even forming a new political party at the age of 82. Irrespective of whether you believe he had succeeded or not or whether you even agree with his ideas, I believe that, all Singaporeans owe him a salute, at least for the sacrifice he had made for all of us.

[Funeral Service of J.B. Jeyaretnam at St Andrew’s Cathedral (4 October 2008)]-More Pics

The funeral service at St Andrew’s Cathedral began at 2pm and was attended by more than 1000 people including Singaporeans of all races and walks of life, as well as a few in wheelchairs – such is the support of JBJ among ordinary Singaporeans. The entire main nave of the cathedral was full and chambers on the second floor as well as tentage in the cathedral compound were set up, equipped with huge screens of the proceedings.

Moving eulogies of this great hero of Singapore were delivered by his sons and multi-ethnic daughters-in-law. Tears flowed among the many people who came to pay tribute to him. The service ended at 3:30pm thereupon the entourage set off for Mandai for the cremation.

Mr. JB Jeyaretnam, Rest in Peace. History, I believe, will be a lot kinder to you.

[Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam was born January 5, 1926, is of Sri Lankan descent and was raised partly in what is now Malaysia – This tribute By Tan Wee Cheng first appeared in his blog Nomadic Republic. JB Jeyaretnam passed away on September 30, 2008]

 

Source: http://tamilweek.com/news-features/archives/1436

 

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Hundreds pay final respects to Singapore opposition leader

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

Hundreds of people paid their last respects Saturday at the funeral of Singapore opposition leader J.B. Jeyaretnam, who faced jail and libel suits in a long fight for greater political freedoms in the affluent city-state.

People from different age groups, social backgrounds and races packed the steepled, English Gothic Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in the business district for an Anglican church service.

The remains of Jeyaretnam, who died of heart failure Tuesday aged 82, were to be cremated later Saturday.

Dubbed the grand old man of the opposition, Jeyaretnam was one of the rare few to speak out against the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore since 1959.

He made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament, espousing causes such as human rights and greater political freedoms in the strict city-state.

Jeyaretnam faced jail and defamation lawsuits filed by PAP members. He was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages which prevented him from running for political office.

He cleared the bankruptcy status last year and formed the Reform Party in a bid to return to politics.

In a eulogy, Jeyaretam’s eldest son Kenneth compared his father to a raging bull who, despite the blows he received, remained “undefeated and unbowed”.

Another son, Philip, a prominent lawyer, said his father’s principle of “giving voice to the silent” led him to enter politics.

Despite his defeats, his father was the “epitome of grace”, he said, recalling that taxi drivers would refuse payment off Jeyaretnam out of respect.

“I am here because I respect him a lot. He taught us the meaning of courage,” a 35-year-old businessman said.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International, in an “open letter” to the family, praised Jeyaretnam as an “unflinching campaigner for the rule of law and for the whole spectrum of human rights — regardless of the personal costs he paid”.

Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim told AFP Jeyaretnam had “consistently been the voice for democracy” and lauded his passion for freedom and human rights.

“His small but audible voice had attracted a lot of international support,” Anwar said.

Singapore’s leaders have said the defamation suits against political opponents are necessary to protect their reputation and tough laws on public assembly are needed to maintain law and order.

They have defended their public record, citing surveys ranking Singapore highly for its low crime rate, the ease of doing business, top quality schools and hospitals and an intolerance of corruption.

Singapore is among Asia’s wealthiest and safest states but critics have urged the government to loosen up on some political and social controls.

 

Source: Agence France-Presse

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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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Singapore opposition loses icon as Jeyaretnam dies

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 2, 2008

Singapore’s opposition dealt body blow with death of iconic politician J.B. Jeyaretnam

(SINGAPORE) With the death of Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, this thriving Southeast Asian city-state has lost its most iconic political maverick, dealing another blow to an opposition movement enfeebled by government lawsuits and voter apathy.

Jeyaretnam, a once wealthy lawyer driven to bankruptcy under the weight of defamation lawsuits filed by Singapore‘s leaders, died Tuesday at age 82.

In recent years, he had stood on street corners and outside subway stations peddling his books about politics because no retailer would stock them. A socialist at heart, he argued Singapore’s free market policies enriches the elite while an underbelly of poor struggles to get by.

Jeyaretnam found his place in history as Singapore’s first opposition politician to be elected to Parliament, in 1981 — 22 years after the governing People’s Action Party took power when Britain granted self rule.

“He will, of course, be remembered as the man who ended the PAP monopoly,” said Simon Tay, a former opposition legislator and now chairman of a think tank, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “Even if this first victory did not grow into a two-party system, it is an important marker.”

Singapore joined Malaysia in a federation in 1963 but broke away as an independent state two years later, led by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, a contemporary of Jeyaretnam and his most bitter foe.

In 1981, Jeyaretnam seemed poised to carve out a power base when he entered Parliament as a Workers Party lawmaker. But the opposition has made little headway, proving at most a minor irritant to the ruling elite — with Jeyaretnam as its most vocal nuisance.

Twenty-seven after he broke the PAP’s monopoly in Parliament, the ruling party still holds all but two of the 84 seats, a stranglehold on power maintained by limits on free speech and other civil liberties.

Most Singaporeans don’t seem concerned, caring more about their strong economy. The city-state has grown from an economic backwater to be Southeast Asia’s financial hub and one of the world’s wealthiest nations — with per capita annual income soaring from $512 in 1965 to $35,163 last year.

The government, first led by Lee and now by his son Lee Hsien Loong, says strict social controls are necessary to preserve that hard-won economic prosperity as well as maintain racial stability in this multiethnic state of 4.8 million people.

“The rhetoric of democracy at all costs doesn’t appeal to the majority of Singaporeans,” said Chua Beng Huat, a sociology professor at National University of Singapore. “Singaporeans aren’t culturally liberal, in an individualistic sense. Singaporeans who are liberal democrats are a painful minority, and J.B.J. symbolized that.”

Jeyaretnam was a cautionary tale for other opposition leaders of the perils of directly criticizing government leaders. He was driven to bankruptcy in 2001 by defamation lawsuits brought by the two Lees and Goh Chok Tong, who served as prime minister after the elder Lee stepped down in 1990 until the son took over in 2004.

Jeyaretnam estimated he paid out more than $925,000 in damages and court costs over the years. Still, after emerging from bankruptcy earlier this year, he announced plans to run for Parliament in the next elections, due by 2011.

Friends and foe alike hailed his tenacity and selflessness.

“I did not believe his brand of politics was good for Singapore,” said Goh, the former prime minister. “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.”

 

Source: Newsweek

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JBJ’s last media interview: Armed for a fresh battle

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 2, 2008

At 82, Singapore’s veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam has overcome the odds and a bankruptcy suit to continue his battle. Armed with a new party, his political convictions are as strong as ever.

VETERAN Singapore opposition figure J.B. Jeyaretnam created history in 1981 when he became the first opposition MP in the island republic. The former magistrate, regarded now as Singapore’s old political warrior, has paid a high price for his political convictions: he has had to sell off his properties and peddle his books along five-foot ways to help raise over S$1.5mil (RM3.45mil) to pay for at least a dozen defamation law suits against him during his 30-year political career.

The 82-year-old has now formed a new party, the Reform Party, and he hopes to continue with what he is doing as long as he is strong and healthy.

You were prohibited from active politics between 2001 and last year due to a defamation suit against you. How was it for you during this period?

I was angry, I suppose. The reason was obvious, as the reason for commencing bankruptcy procedures against me was to take me out of Parliament. I tried to resist but I did not succeed. As a bankrupt I was not allowed to leave the country without getting permission from the official assignee. Even to come to Johor Baru over the weekends, I had to make an application. So there was a complete restriction on my travel. Apart from that, there were all the other little things, like you cannot have a bank account when you are a bankrupt. I was not even allowed to assist other candidates in the elections. They said I was not to go anywhere near an election rally. I was not allowed to go and speak. I was not to go and even assist any candidate because they said that was election activity and as a bankrupt I cannot do that.

How did you raise the final amount to settle your defamation suit?

In the end my two sons bailed me out. The lion’s share came from them. There were some small sums from others. This is because Singaporeans, for some reason or other, are frightened to give any money. Because of the climate of fear, Singaporeans did not give me much money although many sympathised with me. Most of the sales of my two books went towards my living expenses. My first book titled Make it right for Singapore is a compilation of all my speeches in parliament. The other, The Hatchet Man of Singapore, was after the 1997 elections. These books kept my body and soul together; they gave me something to do as besides writing them, I also sold them by the five-foot way in several areas three times a week together with a friend who has been with me since my time in the Workers Party.

Many Singaporeans were hoping you would contest in the 2006 elections. How much were you short of settling your bankruptcy amount?

That was my desperate hope. If the courts had agreed to fix the amount, I could have raised it. This is why I was disappointed with the courts. If the courts had fixed the amount and I knew what I had to raise, then I might have raised it through my sons. I do not know for sure whether it was a delaying tactic.

Have you started practising since the bankruptcy order was lifted?

I am doing one or two civil cases at the moment. I am operating on my own from my office off South Bridge Road. The person who was selling books is working with me now. I am here (Singapore) during weekdays.

The first thing you did after paying up your bankruptcy amount was to register a new party, the Reform Party. What was the main aim behind the formation of the party?

The main thing is to restructure the way we are governed in Singapore. Call it a “system” if you like. At the moment, the way we are governed is we have the executive (the ruling People’s Action Party) at the top. And it’s a law unto itself. The executive makes decisions and policies without any consultation with the people. And what is worrying is that there’s no check on the executive, partly because Parliament is in the control of the PAP.

And even now, with just two opposition members in parliament, Parliament passes laws and abrogates the powers of the court. The courts cannot enquire into the merits of anyone detained without trial. A number of decisions made by ministers are kept outside the courts’ jurisdiction, especially decisions affecting peoples’ lives. So the courts are not protecting the rights of the citizens.

There is this question of freedom of speech in assembly. The constitution grants it, but government says no. Elections in Singapore are not free and clear, as there is no election commission in Singapore. Parliament is no longer a body that is separate, independent and able to control the executive. This is what I think is the urgent priority for Singapore.

Many people retire by the age of 82 but you seem to be eager to get back in parliament this year. Why?

I do expect to get back in parliament. But it’s not for personal power but because I genuinely feel sorry for the people in Singapore. I am talking about the dispossessed, the underprivileged people, which make up a huge number. I am not talking about our bankers and wealthy people who are perhaps not interested in human rights. There is quite a bit of poverty in Singapore, even though the world does not seem to think so because of the propaganda machinery of the Government.

So you have no plans to retire soon?

It depends on my health, but I thank God for giving me health and strength. In that sense I owe it to Him to do something.

Are you not tired of being in politics since you started in 1971 with the Workers Party (WP)?

At times I feel tired and say to myself: “Don’t you think you should give up now?” But that is only momentary. It is followed by the thought that if I have started on a job and as long as I have the health and strength, I will have to go on with it. And there are people who look to you especially when you walk the streets of Singapore. It is just my conviction that when things are wrong, and if there is anything I can do to put them right, then I should do that. I think every citizen should feel like that. It is a citizen’s duty.

Being in the opposition in Singapore all these years has cost you dearly and you even had to sell off your properties. Any regrets?

I did not have many properties but I had to sell a bungalow in a very fashionable area in Singapore to pay the judgement obtained by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Having sold that, three years later I bought a small apartment, and then I had to sell that too. All in, I had easily about 12 to 13 suits to pay off. Some people say I was a fool. All I can say is I do not regret it because, to me, life is not all about making money and acquiring wealth. Life is doing something for the people around you.

What do you think about the recent political tsunami in Malaysia?

It is good that there is a strong opposition in Parliament. This is what I am standing up for in Singapore. I want that for Singapore too.

Do you think such a political tsunami is possible in Singapore?

You never know, especially if Singaporeans take to heart what has happened in Malaysia. It is good to have a strong opposition.

As you can see, former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is widely regarded as the person who united the opposition. Are you planning to play the same role?

This talk about uniting the opposition parties in Singapore is not new. It has been talked about for many years. When I was in the WP, we managed to unite the Barisan Sosialis and another political party into one party. But before you can unite into a group, you must have similarities in ideals, objectives and values. And as I have said, even the WP now does not share my objective. Neither do the other opposition parties. So I do not see how we can really talk about coming together as one party.

In the Malaysian elections, blogs, SMS, and the Internet played an important role in getting the message across to the voters. What do you think?

It goes without saying. We cannot ignore the value and importance of the Internet in Singapore. If you access the blogs in Singapore, you will see the debate that is being carried out. So, of course, it will be foolish of us if we do not resort to the Internet to convey our messages to the people.

Many Singaporeans feel that the PAP has developed the country and, as such, there is no need for an opposition. What do you think about this?

Those who say this have swallowed the PAP’s propaganda. No government, anywhere in the world, can be so good that there is no need for an opposition. It is only in dictatorships where one man rules the country without an opposition. And I differ (from the view) that PAP has done a lot for Singapore.

When you come to measure a country, you do not just look at the roads, the buildings, and the services provided. What you will be looking at is the quality of the peoples’ lives, whether they are allowed to live as human beings with dignity.

Singapore ranked at the bottom in a survey carried out to rank peoples’ happiness. The quality of life is poor. It is no good boasting about your efficiency, boasting about your airport, or boasting about anything else when the people are not happy.

Many say you are in constant loggerheads with the PAP and especially with the Lee family maybe because you have a personal grudge against Lee Kuan Yew.

This is a load of nonsense. I am opposed to the PAP policies not because I have something against Lee personally. But he happens to be the head of the PAP, so people try and equate my dissatisfaction with the PAP with some personal animosity against Lee Kuan Yew. I am clearly opposed to all that the PAP stands for. I am against the system, not the person.

Are your sons into politics?

No. They are not joining me and they have not joined any political party. But that does not mean they are not interested in political affairs and at the moment, I do not hope for them to succeed me.

 

Source: The Star

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Singaporeans pay their last respects to Mr JB Jeyaretnam

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 2, 2008

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans from all walks of life attended Mr JB Jeyaretnam’s wake on Wednesday. And online, several hundred people penned their thoughts on the veteran politician.

Many paid their last respects to a man described as “determined” and “dedicated”. There were also several people from the legal fraternity at the wake, including Ms Indranee Rajah, MP of Tanjong Pagar GRC and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.

She said: “He was a prominent opposition figure who made fiery speeches and obviously was a man of conviction. In the 60s, 70s period, he was always a larger-than-life figure.”

Members of Singapore’s opposition parties were also present, including Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong.

“Mr Jeyaretnam taught the opposition that it must change its strategy to unite and contest the PAP with a bigger force, instead of taking on the mighty PAP single-handedly.

“He is truly an opposition member; his life was devoted to the opposition. He had great ideals but his ideals may be a bit ahead of the times,” said Mr Chiam.

A facebook group has also been set up in memory of Mr Jeyaretnam. So far, some 700 people, including Singaporeans living overseas, have signed up. Most on the website said they admire Mr Jeyaretnam’s fighting spirit and tenacity.

– CNA/so

Source: CNA

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A young man recalls

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 2, 2008

leong wee keat
weekeat@mediacorp.com.sg

MY FIRST personal encounter with Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam was outside City Hall MRT station in 2002. I was 22 and an undergraduate.He was alone, peddling his book and a newsletter to the public.

In the 20 minutes I spent waiting for a friend, a stoic Mr Jeyaretnam did not say much, though he attracted many stares from passers-by.Only a few spoke to him. Younger Singaporeans – including myself – wondered who this man was, and about the apparent madness in his method.

Living next to Cheng San GRC, which he contested in 1997, I held on to my impression that he was a fanatic. When my friend arrived, we left, while Mr Jeyaretnam stayed on, holding onto his book and his views, even though most of Singapore passed him by.

The next time we crossed paths was on Sept 19, last year: I was a young reporter, while he was 81 but possessed more enthusiasm than me.

Mr Jeyaretnam had just been reinstated as an attorney and journalists had gathered at his small, sparsely-furnished office in Chinatown.

Would he be difficult, fiery and fiesty? I wondered. Contrary to thestubborn anti-establishment image I had of him, he wore a toothy grin and was obliging as he fielded questions on whether he could pay his rent and last a lengthy trial.

I asked him about the kind of cases he would handle and whether his clients might include another Opposition party and its supporters.

“Anybody who wants me to defend him or take up his case, I would certainly consider,’’ he replied.

When the news conference ended 30 minutes later, I asked if we could take photographs of him.

He led me outside his new office and pointed to a sign: He had brought it along with him, from his previous firm at the old Colombo Court.

We took another 20 minutes but he showed no signs of irritation. I then asked what was next for him.

He replied with a laugh: “Take a trip to Mars.”

Over the next few months, when I bumped into him in court, the toothy grin was in evidence and there was a bounce in his step.

Life, it was clear, was just beginning for him. But it all ended on Tuesday.

 

Source: TODAY

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