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

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Accolades and tributes from ordinary Singaporeans

Meeting JBJ

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 6, 2008

Almost 10 years ago to the month, the National University of Singapore’s newspaper, The Ridge, published an interview with the late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam. At that time, he was the Workers’ Party secretary-general and in Parliament as a non-constituency MP. This may be 10 years old, but some of the issues that he touched on are still relevant.

JBJ Talking

Talking to JBJ

Initially, NUS did not want The Ridge to publish this interview and the matter went up to the highest levels of the university’s administration.

The editors, though, stood their ground and wanted that issue of The Ridge to come out with the interview intact. After a delay of almost a month and much negotiation, the university finally relented.

The interview was published without any changes, and was one of the few that JBJ gave at that time to come out uncut.


How did you get involved in politics?

Before 1959, I was very much in support of what the People’s Action Party [PAP] was saying – they were claiming to be champions of the workers. Lee [Kuan Yew] was the champion of worker.

So I thought, “Very good. I’m very glad that this man is standing up for the freedom of the individual.”

But soon after the PAP took over, I became very disillusioned because it became clear to me that the man had changed drastically.

I wanted to form an opposition party initially and the Workers’ Party [WP] was more or less dormant after Marshall left in 1962. The leadership then invited me to lead the party in 1971.

How much of progress has the WP made all these years?

In the 1976 and 1980 general elections, I came very close to entering Parliament in Kampong Chai Chee and Telok Blangah respectively. For example, in Telok Blangah, only 1,000 votes separated me from the PAP candidate. But though I lost, the WP had grown in the public’s estimation.

JBJ campaigning at Anson

JBJ campaigning at Anson

I finally won in the 1981 by-elections at Anson where the PAP’s share of the vote was overturned from 84% in 1980 to 48%. This signalled the introduction of opposition in Parliament after 16 years.

In 1984, Chiam See Tong and myself were elected and the PAP’s share of the vote dropped to 62%.

Then, I was disallowed from running for Parliament for five years from 1986 till November 1991. Elections were brought forward to before that to prevent me from running.

In 1996, I contested Cheng San with four other candidates and you must know the story. The PAP were desperate to stop from getting elected not just myself but also my co-candidate Tang Liang Hong who was well known among the Chinese community and had been outspoken on Chinese affairs.

And he was like me, a daring man, and so, they were desperate. So they dug up an old speech he had made in 1992 and some other speeches or remarks he had made and said he was a Chinese chauvinist and anti-Christian.

I think we would have won still if not for the frightening of the voters in Cheng San by the PM Goh Chok Tong. On the eve of polling day rally, he had a crowd of 2,000 people brought there in their lorries. We had more than 50,000 people listening to us.

He told them, “It’s all or nothing for you. You vote for us and you’ll get everything and more. The MRT, the LRT, the new township and we’ll upgrade your HDB and so on. Only on one condition – you vote us in.”

He said the Government was at stake. That will tell you how important it was for them to keep us out. As though the government would collapse if we had won. It may be right, the government might have collapsed.

So, all I am trying to say is, we lost because of their allegations that Tang was a Chinese chauvinist and anti-Christian. But even despite that, we would have won, if not for this “frightening” of the voters.

Yet, we emerged far stronger than any other opposition party. So that’ll tell you the progress that has been made by the WP in all these years.

Do you feel there is a need for a change of tactics by the opposition; perhaps moving away from the by-election strategy of giving the PAP power on nomination day to actually trying to form a government?

Well, it was not our strategy. We didn’t it put up. Anyway, I don’t think it makes any difference. I don’t know what tactics you think we need to change. The PAP and the media, which is under their control, will say that we have no alternative programme.

We have an alternative programme – ‘Towards a caring society’. We first produced this in 1976, again for the 1988 elections, made some changes and had the latest one in 1995. We have a programme in every subject.

But of course, the press doesn’t comment on it and no one ever bothers to tell the public about it and the PAP keep pointing that “they have no programme”.

Why is it difficult to attract people to the WP?

Again, the fear.

Let’s talk about this fear of people joining and voting for WP and other opposition parties.

An important factor is the fear of the ISA.

You spoke up recently in parliament about that.

Yes, the speeches by NMPs [Nominated MP] replying to me appeared in the newspapers, but they never published my speech.

The ISA was used after the 1976 elections when they attempted to detain one of our own candidates but he evaded arrest and is now in London. They have used it against those who have come to help the WP in some way or if they are potential candidates.

Apart from detention, people have lost their jobs. After the ’72 elections, two of our candidates lost their jobs. So this fear became embedded. There was no need for the PAP to make an announcement.

I have mentioned this. Candidates who themselves are very keen to join in, then suddenly come in at the last minute and say, “I spoke to my employer and they said, yes please join the WP as a candidate, but we will give you our notice.” So, what does the man do?

So that’s how people have been kept out. Not just the employer, the family too. At the last elections, 3 candidates withdrew.

One said, “My wife is crying and can’t sleep while my children are asking me why am I doing this to the family. So I can’t break up the family.”

Another told me, “My father is in the hospital, he’s worried. My brother is worried, my sister in-law is worried.”

The last one said, “My wife and family are worried and saying that I shouldn’t stand.”

As I said in Australia recently, unless this fear is broken, Singapore is never going to advance anywhere. They seem to have broken it in Indonesia, and it’s happening in Malaysia – but when in Singapore?

What about the voters then? Why do think they are afraid to vote?

Like in Cheng San, they don’t want to lose everything.

So what do think they should do?

They must say, “It doesn’t matter. You can take whatever you want but we are prepared.”

But that is a very difficult choice for people to make.

The voters are afraid because they will lose things and this will affect their family and children. It is all these tactics. And they call it free and fair elections!

It is a very depressing state of affairs in this country. You get NMPs in parliament saying that Singapore’s elections are free and fair.

I say what do they know? Have they taken part in elections to pronounce that they are free and fair?

What do you think about the NMP scheme?

I’ll only say this. NMPs have no place in parliament as they never went through the electoral process. I am an NCMP and I went through the electoral process and the constitution provides for my place as a reflection of the voters’ preference.

I am in Parliament because 46.9% of voters in Cheng San wanted me in there. Which voter wanted NMPs in Parliament?

The WP was initially against the NCMP scheme as well.

I’ll explain that. The scheme was initially introduced to buy off the voters. Then, they put out another half-truth that non-Chinese would find it difficult to get into parliament.

The ignored the fact that in Anson, it was 78% Chinese votes and I got in. What they mean is that their own non-Chinese candidates will find it difficult to get into Parliament. So, we opposed it.

But in 1984, the PAP hadn’t resorted to the tactics they used from 1988 onwards, and especially two years ago when they resorted to large-scale frightening like announcing that votes would be counted precinct by precinct.

My party decided that in these circumstances, I should accept the seat.

Do you think it is possible for a party other than the PAP to come to power in Singapore?

Of course it is. If one day, the people stand up and say, “We’ve had enough of this. We don’t care anymore.”

Do you see that happening?

However you look, it will eventually happen. In spite of all that they did in Cheng San, nearly 47% voted for us. It will come about if the people decide it is enough.

What is your personal opinion of the NUS undergraduate?

In other countries, students are in the forefront of political change, for example in Indonesia. Not in Singapore.

But I can sympathise with you because the University might throw you out. I can’t expect you to lose your place in the university.

It is important to want to further your education and get something out of your life. The University is wrong in clamping down on student participation in politics. I understand your problem and am not willing to condemn.

Do you believe that the general apathy in Singapore is due in part of the political culture here?

There is only one culture here – that of fear. Everyone knows that they have to be frightened and mustn’t speak out. They can’t do anything that displeases the government.

Do you refer to the government or the PAP as a political party?

There is very little difference between the government and the PAP.

What is your view of the Singapore 21 committee?

A lot of words, nothing else.

Where do they talk about people living in dignity without fear, about people having the basic freedoms? They don’t talk about removing the fear from the hearts and mind of the people – I said that in Parliament.

They are always talking about making Singapore the best home, a happy place. Just more and more words, which is what the PAP is good at.

What is your vision of Singapore in the 21st century?

I want the people of Singapore to be possessed of their own basic human dignity which they are denied and enjoy what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “The inalienable rights of human beings” – which is to live without fear.

I want Singaporeans to be allowed to make their own choices – to participate in the decision making process of their country, which they are not given at the moment.

How do you respond to criticism JBJ is out of with the younger generation?

That was something that the papers put out.

It was a question at the last elections.

Well of course they want me to retire and give way to the younger generation. Isn’t that obvious?

But all I can say is, whenever I walk along the streets sometimes I get even school students who come up and say, “Sir, may I shake your hand? We admire you so much.”

So, have I lost touch? I don’t know.

What is your motivation to stay in politics for so long?

I believe that life is not to be lived for oneself, but there’s a duty.

What would you like to say to the NUS undergraduates?

Well, this is also what the PAP says – the future of any country lies in those who are going to take over from their parents. Something has to be handed over to the next generation. This is what I have asked the people and the voters – what are you going to hand over to your children?

A few notes on some of the topics that were touched on in this interview:

1) Mr Jeyaretnam was part of the Workers’ Party team that narrowly lost to the PAP at Cheng San GRC in the 1997 General Elections. It was one of the most fiercely contested election campaigns in recent times.

2) Opposition parties used the by-election strategy, through which they would contest less than half of the seats that were up for grabs in an election and therefore make sure that the People’s Action Party returned to power on nomination day. The premise was that Singaporeans wanted the PAP to remain in power, and would therefore be more amenable to voting for opposition candidates during the elections if that was confirmed before polling day. This was most successful in 1991, when four opposition MPs were elected. 

3) Singapore 21 was a government programme to reach out to all Singaporeans in an effort to gather feedback on how they would like the country to develop in the new millennium. It resulted in a set of aims, which are listed on the official website that has not been updated since January 2004. Whether the country has actually achieved all of that is debatable.


Source: Gee Siva


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J B Jeyaretnam: The iconography begins

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

In its immediate commentary following the death of opposition leader Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam on 30 September 2008, the Straits Times wrote: “Yet, the old warhorse refused to believe that he was irrelevant to Singaporeans.” [1]

In the days following, the actions and words of both the newspaper and its political masters demonstrated they didn’t believe themselves. Over and over again, one saw attempts to downgrade the man and his passing. Yet the fact that such attempts were necessary belied the newspaper’s own assertion that he meant little.

A candlelight memorial for J B Jeyaretnam was held at Hong Lim Green on 4 October 2008.

Leader writer Chua Lee Hoong opined: “With the benefit of hindsight, it could even be said that it was Mr Jeyaretnam’s highly combative style that led the PAP government to develop an aversion to confrontational politics, Westminster-style.[2] It’s a rather strange assessment. Just ask the Barisan Socialis, Singapore’ s main opposition party in the 1960s, who were crushed by a liberal use of the Internal Security Act. Or ask any leader of independent trade unions and publishers of newspapers of that era. Blaming Jeyaretnam for the PAP’s habit of crushing its opponents is far-fetched to say the least. And again, the very laying of (false) blame contradicted the claim that he was irrelevant, for if he was so pivotal in making our politics the way it is, then he can’t be irrelevant, can he?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong were even more artless. In their condolence messages, released to the media, they came across as self-serving, taking the opportunity to burnish their own reputations, painting themselves as principled and magnanimous.

PAP leaders never wanted their fight with Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam to affect his two sons, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

In their condolence messages, they referred to a letter that the late opposition politician’s elder son Kenneth had written to then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 1993.

He wrote to Mr Goh to say that he had found employers in Singapore reluctant to offer him a job.

Mr Goh replied with a letter that could be shown to prospective employers.

In it, Mr Goh stressed that the Government did not hold anything against Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam and urged employers to evaluate him on his own merits.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Goh said: ‘As prime minister, I did not allow the PAP’s fight with Mr Jeyaretnam to affect his sons’ place in society.

— Straits Times, 1 October 2008, JBJ’s fight with
 PAP did not affect his sons: PM Lee, SM Goh

What that has to do with expressing sympathy escapes me. They then went on to accuse Jeyaretnam of wanting to destroy the People’s Action Party (PAP), oblivious to the fact that in the public’s eye, it’s been the other way around. Everybody sees it as the PAP who has been obsessive about persecuting Jeyaretnam, through the last 27 years.

Quoting Lee Hsien Loong’s letter,

‘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 J.B. Jeyaretnam’s dogged tenacity to be active in politics at his age.’

— ibid

Hello, who has destroyed the parliamentary tradition that we inherited from the British? Who invented Group Representation Constituencies? Who resorted to defamation suits for stump speeches that are normal in every true democracy?

See how rabid they are in mauling the man even posthumously?

Reporting the funeral

When it came to reporting the funeral, the Straits Times again demonstrated how much of a PAP mouthpiece it was. Whereas AFP reported that eulogies delivered by Jeyaretnam’s sons Kenneth and Philip made references to his ideals, and his political trials and tribulations, the Straits Times reported not a word of that.

First, the AFP story:

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.

— AFP, 5 October 2008, Hundreds pay final
respects to Singapore opposition leader

You can verify for yourself, through the YouTube videos put up by The Online Citizen that Kenneth said the above and quite a lot else about his father’s political life, including: “I think of my father as a man who received blow after blow and yet remained undefeated and unbowed.”

He also noted that his father, through his “bravery and tenacity in fighting for the cause of individual freedom and human rights in Singapore”, showed fellow citizens that “they were not powerless to change [things]…. and that through the democratic process, they possess the means to control their own destiny.”

Rebutting the rush to judge him as irrelevant: “And despite the government’s denial that my father had any impact on their attitudes and policies towards the electorate, every Singaporean knows the legacy of his victory.”

Younger son Philip Jeyaretnam recalled the “savage attacks on his patriotism” that his father faced in the 1970s when he first stood for election, losing 5 times, often narrowly, before the ground-breaking 1981 by-election victory in Anson that shot him to fame.

“For him,” Philip said, politics “was law and advocacy in a new guise, speaking for those who might not otherwise be heard, arguing always for fairness, due process, and equity.”

When Jeyaretnam was disqualified from the bar as a result of PAP accusations, those were the “worst times of his life.”

Then Philip got even more pointed: “Notwithstanding this, he was the epitome of grace, even though others failed to accept the true implications of the Privy Council’s restoration of him as an advocate and solicitor, and so he was not pardoned or reinstated to his seat in Parliament. He bore it all stoically, fully confident that right was on his side.”

“Away from his political battles, where he had to fight heart and soul, he was gentle and committed when helping individuals around him. Throughout his life, the way [my father] helped people earned him the friendship and love of many. He lived among the people, preferring the bus to a taxi even in his last days. Perhaps he felt embarrassed that so often taxi drivers refused to take the fare from him.”

But none of that was reported in the Straits Times. Instead, you’d learn from the newspaper’s story unceremoniously relegated to the bottom of page 11, deep inside, that Philip told the congregation “how dedicated [his father] was to his faith and how devoted he was to his wife.” Kenneth recalled, the Straits Times said, that his father “always insisted on accompanying [his grandson] Jared to Robinsons at Christmas time to choose him a present.” [3] 

Excuse me, but these are things one hears at every eulogy. They are not news. What was news -– because it is not said everyday at eulogies -– was the way Jeyaretnam’s sons spoke of his political life. In its complete silence, the Straits Times once again abandoned its journalistic craft.

And unknowingly underlined everything that Jeyaretnam had been pointing out about the state of democracy in Singapore.

Maybe he *was* irrelevant

A few days ago, a young lawyer seemed surprised when I told him that much as we speak of the Worker’s Party’s 2006 showing in Aljunied as some kind of high water mark, others, including J B Jeyaretnam, had actually done better in previous Group Representation Constituency contests.

Whereas the Workers’ Party (WP) team in Aljunied 2006, led by Sylvia Lim, got 43.9 percent of votes polled, Francis Seow got 49 percent in 1988.

Year GRC Team % of votes cast
1988 Eunos GRC WP team led by Francis Seow 49.1%
1991 Eunos GRC WP team led by Lee Siew Choh and Mohamed Jufrie Mahmood 47.6%
1997 Cheng San GRC WP team led by J B Jeyaretnam 45.2%

The young lawyer didn’t know that. In that sense, it spoke to the generally low level of political awareness in Singapore, which is associated with widespread apathy and fear of being “political”.

You could argue then that this young man, and the many like him, might indeed see Jeyaretnam as irrelevant to their lives. Yet, by the same token, wouldn’t Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, Senior Minister (and former Prime Minister) Goh Chok Tong or former student-activist, now born-again PAP believer, Vivian Balakrishnan also be irrelevant? For isn’t all politics “irrelevant” to this entire class?

Indirect importance

On the other hand, even politically apathetic Singaporeans tend to share certain views about the system we live under. There is a consensus that the PAP can be brutes, that our political order, justice system, and certainly the mainstream media, are nowhere near as fair as should be ours by right, that we have an arrogant government which bulldozes its way through a voiceless people.

But from where did people learn these? Who has opened their eyes for them? Certainly, J B Jeyaretnam, through his struggles and dogged outspokenness, must have played a big role in even this minimal level of political consciousness. So, even if people cannot say how they know what they know, that they know, must owe something to the life work of the man. That they are dissatisfied — and dissatisfaction is the driving force of change — is the legacy Jeyaretnam has left us.

How many remember Lim Chin Siong?

Fine, so subliminally, Jeyaretnam’s impact is there, even among the politically disengaged. But how long before they forget the physical man and his place in our political history?

It is sobering to ask how many Singaporeans know about Lim Chin Siong, and be able to describe the significance of his life and politics. Lim was at least as well-known as Lee Kuan Yew in the 1950s and 1960s, and equally popular too. Lim paid an even heavier price for his beliefs than Jeyaretnam, arrested in the 1950s and spending 6 years in detention without trial in the 1960s (1961 – 1969). After his release, he spent a further 10 years in exile in London. He died in 1996 at a relatively early age of 62.

Lim’s constituency of supporters was drawn mostly from the Chinese-speaking majority of a different generation. This demographic group is one that is dying off. Furthermore, he died before the internet took off, and so his memory did not have the opportunity to be articulated and spread through a popular medium. Unlike Jeyaretnam who fought to his last day, Lim became politically inactive after being released from detention, but this is probably not from choice. A common condition of release from detention is that the person should not engage in further political activity.

For these and perhaps other reasons, Lim is fading from our collective memory. The question is: Is Lim’s fate a harbinger of Jeyaretnam’s?

Enduring significance?

It could be worse. He could end up as just another fashion symbol like Che Guevara’s visage.

Whether it goes that route or not, almost surely, the process of iconography will begin. The real Jeyaretnam will slowly be forgotten (or fashionalised) by the majority, but those who remain doing political work will start to use him for their own purposes.

It is the nature of politics that we create symbols, distilled to their essence, sometimes retooled to represent whatever is needed for a new age (Examples: Robert F Kennedy, or Stonewall [4]). Remade into a symbol, Jeyaretnam will be beyond rational debate; it will no longer be whether his ideas are good or bad, practical or dreamy. Instead, he will represent idealism and hope; his example will provide proof to his successors that their struggle reaches back in time, and therefore must surely be enduring into the future, which in turn must testify to the indestructibility and ultimate righteousness of whatever cause his memory is hoisted over.

Detractors will use every chance to point out that this is empty symbolism; that he was never relevant to the “heartlanders”, the “average Singaporean”, the “majority”, even in his time.

But to formulate it thus is to forget an even more enduring lesson of politics: In the long run, the centre never matters. History is a continuing story of how margins conquer the centre, wave after wave, whether we’re referring to “unpopular” political ideas, “immoral” social trends, “useless” technological inventions, or even “outlandish” fashion.

Of course, margins are always multiple; they compete to seize the centre. For every one which succeeds and carry their icons to the mantle, countless other margins fade into oblivion, their icons with them. The interesting question, therefore, is not whether J B Jeyaretnam lives in the hearts of the many today, but whether his memory and symbolism mean anything to the few who, by the dice of history, turn out as the ultimate victors for the soul of Singapore.


Source: Yawning Bread

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Open letter to the family of J B Jeyaretnam from Amnesty International

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

International Secretariat
Peter Benenson House, 1 Easton Street,
London WC1X ODW, United Kingdom


Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Philip Jeyaretnam


3 October 2008


Dear Kenneth and Philip,

An Open Letter to the family of J B Jeyaretnam

Amnesty International wishes to express its sympathy and condolences at the death of your father, J B Jeyaretnam, whom the organizations regarded as an unflinching campaigner for the rule of law and for the whole spectrum of human rights – regardless of the personal costs he paid. It was often the organization’s privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him in the struggle for a Singapore that would move to promote and protect fundamental rights.

As you know, Amnesty International monitored and was active on developments following his election to Parliament in 1981, including the ruinous civil defamation suits launched against him by the ruling party’s leadership, his expulsion from Parliament, imprisonment and bankruptcy. But he refused to be deterred by legal moves designed to intimidate Singaporeans and silence those holding dissenting views. To the end, he was fighting for his right to re-enter Parliament as a representative of his recently formed Reform Party. Amnesty International shared with him the recognition that the campaign for human rights must continue – even against obstacles such as those he faced – and that restrictions on freedom of expression guaranteed under international standards cannot be justified.

Amnesty International respected J B Jeyaretnam in his lifetime as a human rights defender. We believe his memory is best honoured by continuing to campaign against repression and for fundamental human rights for the citizens of the country he loved.


Yours sincerely,


Sam Zarifi
Director, Asia Pacific Program

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Posted by jbjmemorial on October 5, 2008

30 September 2008

Dear Prime Minister & Cabinet Members

By all accounts, we have lost a figure of uncommon strength and conviction in Mr JB Jeyaretnam.

No matter which side of the political fence we stand, it is undeniable that Mr JBJ, as he will be fondly remembered, has fought long and hard for what he believed was good for Singapore and, good for Singaporeans.

Mr JBJ did all he could with all he could. In staying the course, he has undoubtedly performed a public duty as a citizen of Singapore and, amply demonstrated the public spirit, the commitment to country and, the “nation before self” maxim that the government has sought to propagate.

As Singaporeans we are proud that such a man as Mr JBJ walked among us. We appreciate the sacrifices Mr JBJ has made for his beliefs in serving the people of Singapore . We are equally proud that the government, in spite of its political differences, has acknowledged the same resilience and service to nation in Mr JBJ.

Mr JBJ is an icon – an individual who stood up to serve the country and who stood tall for his beliefs and principles. As citizens of Singapore , we hope that Mr JBJ’s public spiritedness and love of the law can be preserved in the following manner:

1)    a professorial chair in the name of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam be created in the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore and,

2)    A scholarship fund in the name of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam for graduate studies in political science and/or constitutional law and/or civil society studies.

We also humbly ask the government to further demonstrate its commitment to public spiritedness and active citizenry by taking the lead to provide the seed fund for the above honours for others to follow.

We look forward to your encouragement as we mourn the loss of one of Singapore’s better sons.

Yours in good faith,

Dana Lam Yoke Kiew (SXXXXXXXH)
Braema Mathi (SXXXXXXXG)
Siew Kum Hong (SXXXXXXXE)
Manohar P Sabnani (SXXXXXXXA)
Teri Teo Shiwen (SXXXXXXXI)
Constance Singam (SXXXXXXXE)
Cheng U Wen, Lena (SXXXXXXXD)
Lim Siew Wai, William (SXXXXXXXD)
Benedict Jacob-Thambiah (SXXXXXXXI)
T Sasitharan (SXXXXXXXZ)
Stephanie Chok (SXXXXXXXB)
Heng Hiang Khng (SXXXXXXXE)
Jacqueline Tan (SXXXXXXXC)
Serene Yap (SXXXXXXXG)

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JBJ – A man of honour and integrity

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 4, 2008

Today Sinaporeans will bid farewell to an iconic symbol of a fighting spirit that had stood up for democracy and human rights, paying every price that was extracted from him!

We were saddensed to learn of JB Jeyaretnam’s demise in the early hours of the morning on Tuesday, 30 September 2008. JBJ, as he was fondly referred to, succumbed to a heart attack bringing to an end a life that reflected an indomitable spirit and a formidable fortitude that helped him to stay the course.

He gave up what could have been a successful career on the bench to enter the rough-and-tumble of Singapore’s political life with zeal and energy.. Right to the end he remained a fighter, a great warrior for democracy and human rights. He embodied valour and virtue in fighting for a cause he believed in passionately.

He stood proudly and bravely with the ordinary men championing their cause and on many occasions representing their interest without payment. He was there for them – all the time.

The picture that remains in my mind goes back to 27 years ago towards the end of 1981 when he won the Anson by-election. The Anson seat was vacated by C V Devan Nair who subsequently went on to become the President of Singapore. That history-making victory broke the stranglehold of the PAP on Singapore’s politics.

When the results were announced that night, a visibly emotional JBJ hugged his son and whispered, “We did it, son.” It was a poignant moment that he would have very much wanted to share with his wife, Margaret. Unfortunately she passed away the previous year without being part of the victory though she she had been very much part of his struggle.

He was a consummate politician who had to go through so many political hurdles during the many years when he waged a long and lonely battle against the PAP to secure the space for democracy and human rights. The mighty PAP gave him one hell of a struggle. They bankrupted him with many defamation suits which they won with hefty awards crippling him financially.

He lost his property, he lost his legal practice and he lost his wealth. But he never lost his sanity or his fighting spirit. That was the measure of this great man.

All he had was his unbending will and a determination to stand up for what he believed in. Any lesser man would have thrown in the towel – but not JBJ!

He peddled his party organ, The Hammer, and his books on street corners to raise funds to free himself from bankruptcy. Many, out of fear, avoided him on the streets. Even the bookshops dared not stock his books for sale. It was such a pity that he had to struggle against all odds and all alone.
We are happy that he finally cleared himself from bankruptcy in July 2007 – in spite of strenuous opposition to block him – and died as an honourable man.

When he launched his new party, the Reform Party, in July 2008, he remarked, “I’m not being dramatic but I haven’t got many more years.” Little did he know that he barely had three months of his life left!

In his concluding remarks, he urged the gathering, “Come, walk with me, let us walk together… for peace, justice, truth… fearing no one except God,”

We may not be able to walk with him but we can certainly walk in his path and keep his spirit alive.
Farewell, JBJ. May your great soul rest in peace.


P Ramakrishna
Aliran (Malaysia)
4 October 2008

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Morreu JBJ

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 4, 2008

EDITORS’ NOTE: for anyone who may understand Portuguese

Hoje, 3 de Outubro soube que morreu JBJ.


Joshua Benjamin Jeyatetnam, advogado, cidadão

de Singapura, cristão anglicano e descendente

dos Tamil do Sri Lanka.


JBJ, como era conhecido, foi o primeiro deputado da oposição eleito daquela cidade-estado ao fim de 16 anos da independencia de Singapura em 1981, pelo Workers Party of Singapore.


Em 1984 foi reeleito, sendo um dos dois membros da oposição eleitos esse ano. Dois meses após das eleições apenas, foi acusado de má gestão dos fundos do partido, acusado e levado a tribunal, sendo banido da ordem dos advogados, arquido em vários processos de difamação do estado, governo e do primeiro-ministro, tendo sido condenado a idenmizações enormes, ficando na bancarota em 2003.


Em cima disto, após ter recorrido ao “Privy Council” em Inglaterra , uma especie de supervisor das ordens dos advogados na Commonwealth (a lei em Singapura previa este recurso, tendo após este caso sido revista e revogada), foi declarada a anulação da sua desclassificação como advogado, tendo o presidente de Singapura, ainda assim, recusado aceitar a decisão do Privy Council. E foi proibido de participar em eleições

por mais 5 anos.


Há menos de 1 ano, com 83 anos de idade, fundou o Partido Reformista para desafiar novamente o regime de mais de 40 anos no poder do People Action Party na cidade-estado de Singapura.


Eu soube do JBJ por alguém que era uma pessoa atenta ao mundo que nos rodeia. Questionou-me na altura “mas o que é que sabes de Singapura?” Tive que reconhecer que não sabia nada. Mas hoje reconheço que estou triste. E reconheço que o mundo está mais pobre.


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Goodbye, dear friend

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 3, 2008

Dear Mr Jeyaretnam,

I visited you one last time on Tuesday. I’ve never seen you so peaceful and contented.

This is such a change from all the years that we’ve been working together. I remember how bitter we felt sitting in your rented apartment at Orange Grove Road after the 1997 elections. The place has since been turned into swank, upscale serviced-apartments. We were drafting a letter to the United Nations to ask for the monitoring of future elections here.

It was a tedious job recounting everything that had happened: the hounding of Tang Liang Hong, the threats made against voters, and the gatecrashing of polling stations by ministers. The task was made lighter only with the delightful combination of the savoury Indian vadai and Earl Grey you served.

I remember also asking you about the copy of Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela sitting on your coffee table. You said that once in a long while, there comes a man who achieves greatness without having to cause the suffering of others.

On another occasion, my wife and I visited you at another rented house. From the outside, we could see a few of your shirts hanging by the window ledge on the upper floor. Mei said that she felt sorry that you had to do your own laundry at your age without anyone sharing those chores with you.

This reminds me of the time when we were driving along Serangoon Road and you wanted to stop by to pick up a bunch of flowers. I had asked you what the occasion was. You said it was your wedding anniversary and that your late wife, Margaret, would have liked the bouquet.

Then there was the time when we visited New York City. I was surprised when you mentioned that that was the first time you had set foot in the US. We had checked into this small hotel and struggled with our luggage along the narrow and dingy corridor. And as I fumbled for the key to open the door, I heard you mutter to yourself: “Oh Ben, what have you gotten yourself into?”

My heart sank when I heard you say that. I was feeling a little depressed myself and I was hoping to get some cheer from you. Seeing you so despondent made my own morale wobble.

But I knew that you were feeling depressed and anxious because of yet another lawsuit. As we put our weary heads on the emaciated pillows, you said that they didn’t just want to win politically but were determined to also crush us personally.

We made a pact that night that while we may not yet be able to beat them politically, we would not allow them to defeat us on the personal front. They may take away all our possessions, but they will never take away our will to speak up. And then you said that we needed to rest as “tomorrow’s another day that we have to fight.”

The next morning I came out from the shower and saw you reading the Bible. We talked a little about the Book of Ecclesiastes. Then you knelt down by the bed to say a prayer and I joined you. We prayed for strength and sustenance.

Rejuvenated, we went down to what New Yorkers call a “deli” for breakfast. I remember you asking me what a bagel was and I said that it was the American version of the vadai. You chortled and we mouthed down a couple of Ham and Cheeses. Actually, I did. You found the bagels a little too hard.

During breakfast we talked about setting up an NGO to advocate transparency and democracy in Singapore. When we came back, we had a bit of a laugh seeing how the gentleman at the Registry of Companies squirmed as he tried to handle our application for the “Open Singapore Foundation”.

After rejecting the term “Foundation”, “Institute” and a couple of others, the ROC finally allowed the use of “Centre”. Thus was born the first human rights NGO in Singapore.

We left New York and you headed south to Florida to visit your son. When you returned, you bought my daughter a little pink teddy bear. It squeaks when you press its tummy. When she was a little older, we told her who bought it for her. She named it “JB Bear” because she couldn’t quite pronounce your name.

My wife said that it was funny to think of this cute little pink bear and picture you at the same time, a big elderly man with bushy hair and your trademark “mutton chops”. You always made her jump a little whenever your voice boomed through the phone: “Is that you, Mei?”

Several months later, your worst nightmare came true. You were found guilty of defamation again and you now had to vacate your seat in Parliament for the second time. I remember talking to you on the phone after your appeal was rejected. You sounded so crestfallen.

I had asked you if you wanted to talk, but you said that you just wanted to be “alone for a while.” The next day we met for lunch near your office at North Bridge Road. We got into a heated argument. I had asked you not to continue paying the money and playing into the hands of Lee and his people.

I knew you were angry at me for saying so, but I also knew that you wanted me to be honest with you. Through the years, we have had our clashes and disagreements. But we always knew that we were locked in spirit and that we would always remain true to each other and to what we believed in. No matter how serious our disagreements, we always stood on the same side.

As you lay down to rest, democracy is not yet at hand. But don’t you ever believe those who say that your fight on earth was irrelevant and personal. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans and we will keep the fight going.

We will keep on reaching for that star in the black sky, that shimmering distant star of liberty. If we are closer to touching it, it is because we stand on your shoulders.

Your legacy and walk on earth will not only remain but it will grow. You have left a void that cannot be filled.

I think of that night in New York when we pledged not to let them defeat our persons. You’ve kept your end of the pact. They may still have the power but, boy, you sure showed them what a fighter for truth is. You leave us with honour and dignity, no one could buy you over and no one did. And even though you did not possess millions in your bank account, the treasure which you have stored is with you today and forever.

Goodbye, Ben, I will miss you.

But even as I mourn your death, I celebrate your life because it has touched mine. You have fought the good fight and now you have been called home to rest. They cannot hurt you anymore. Until we meet again, dear friend, I will always remain

Yours in Justice and Freedom,

Soon Juan

Source: Singapore Democrats


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The day JBJ made me cry: Photos of JBJ’s wake on 3 October 2008

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 3, 2008

Article and Photos by Fang Zhi Yuan

I drove straight to Mount Vernon after picking little Marcus up from the nursery together with my wife. As I turned into Mount Vernon, we were greeted by a huge banner of condolence to the family of JBJ. My wife, being wife, was still nagging me for making a long detour instead of returning home.

JBJvernon00.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

“I still don’t understand why you are so free to come and pay respects to a man we have never met”

Who says so ? We did meet him a few years ago, remember ?” I snapped.

Well, it’s not exactly a meeting. I first saw JBJ selling his books outside Orchard MRT with my girlfriend (now wife) during my undergraduate days. I had wanted to walk up and talk to him, but my wife pleaded with me not to jeopardize our future by being seen together with this opposition icon.

I still recall her rather silly words till today: “What if somebody take a photo of us and send it to the government ? Then we will never be able to find work in the civil service and even in Singapore you know ?”  Perhaps not so silly after all if we realize quite a significant portion of Singaporeans actually share her irrational fears.

The road leading up the parlors are lined completely with cars and I have to park further up. Of course, my wife kept grumbling all the way as we walked down towards funeral parlor 1 where JBJ’s wake is held.

JBJvernon01.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

The entire compound was filled with wreaths from JBJ’s relatives, friends, supporters and well-wishers that we almost mistook it to be the Botanical Gardens.

JBJvernon02.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty


JBJvernon03.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

Eugene and Siew Peng, who came before me had told me about the huge support shown by Singaporeans. It was not reported by the mainstream media at all and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with very my own eyes.

There was a gigantic wreath embodied with the Chinese characters “Heavenly Kingdom” presented by WP’s Secretary General Low Thia Kiang. Though I may disagree with Mr Low on his methods and style in politics, I genuinely believe that in spite of the differences he had with JBJ when he was still alive, there was never any bad blood between the two men.

JBJvernon04.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

We went into the Chapel and said a silent prayer in respect of JBJ. His embalmed body lying serenely in the coffin, bereft of the passion which has driven him to devote his entire life in the service of Singapore. How I hate myself (and my wife) for not plucking the courage to listen to his words of wisdom when I had the chance to !

It was 6pm and the crowd started to swell. Singaporeans from all races, religions and walks of life lined up orderly and quietly to sign JBJ’s condolence book – a testimony of JBJ’s enduring charm and stature in the hearts of Singaporeans.

JBJvernon05.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

As I was carrying Marcus in one arm, my hands are quivering as I wrote my condolence message in the half-filled book (in fact the 4th): “Dear JBJ, you are truly a hero for Singaporeans. Rest in peace !”

JBJvernon06.jpg JBJ wake at Mount Vernon, 3 Oct 2008 picture by wayangparty

I went over to the booth to buy JBJ’s book “Make it right for Singapore”. I enquired about the price and was pleasantly surprised to be told that the amount to pay is entirely voluntary and the proceeds will go to the Reform Party founded by JBJ in July this year.

I took out a hundred dollar note and before I could put it into the donation box, my wife hit me hard on the wrist.

“You crazy is it ? Got money to donate to political party, no money to bring the family out for a tour ??”

Are Singaporeans as pragmatic as my wife ?

Certainly not JBJ who paid a huge price to fight for the rights of Singaporeans.

For once in my life, I felt proud to be a Singaporean because of a fellow Singaporean named JBJ who walked tall amongst us.

 As I flipped through his book, my tears start to flow uncontrollaby as I read his anthem for Singapore – ”Make it right for Singapore” which ends with the following stanza:

“Singapore, Oh Singapore, how I love you my Singapore

How I love my Singapore, Singapore, Singapore”

I am so sorry, JBJ !!

In spite of all the tribulations, torture and agony you have been put through by your adversaries, you had never stop loving Singapore !!”

 You are not paid a million dollars of annual salary to serve Singaporeans, in fact you were just discharged from bankruptcy at the age of 81. Yet, you feel so much for us to continue to labor on at a age when most people would have retired.

Had I known how much you love Singapore when I saw you on that fateful day, I would have rushed forward and HUG you !

My dear JBJ, though you may have disappeared from my life forever, because of your love for Singapore, I will stay on to spread my love for my fellow citizens.

Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”

Corinthians 13:4-7


Source: Wayang Party Club


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JBJ’s wake at Mount Vernon, 30 September 2008, 7pm

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 3, 2008

Article and photos by Eugene Yeo

I arrived at Mount Vernon at 8.30pm as the visitors started to stream in. Rolls of wreaths from many friends, supporters and well-wishers lined the entrance as I walked in together with my wife.

Zhi Yuan couldn’t make it in the last minute as his father was admitted to hospital while Fairuz was breaking fast with his family, so I was the only one from the gang who is present.

JBJwake02.jpg Wreaths for JBJ picture by wayangparty


The journalists were early as usual, taking photos and interviewing the guests. I wondered what they will write in the papers tomorrow ?

JBJwake01.jpg JBJwake01 picture by wayangparty


JBJ’s books were on sale at a booth, but nobody seems to be buying it. I guess most of us are too distraught by the sudden departure of JBJ to accept it.

JBJwake04.jpg Reform party book sale picture by wayangparty


A few familar faces appeared – Ti Lik, E Jay, Kum Hong, Teck Siong, WP members Shin Leong and Melvin Tan. Uncle Yap appeared lost and disconsolate. It must be a terrible blow to him.

JBJwake03.jpg Uncle Yap looking lost picture by wayangparty


The TOC guys were there too. They appeared to be in great spirits, chatting and cracking small jokes with one another. Andrew Loh was dressed in a blue T-shirt together with another bespectacled chap and a young girl in black trying to interview one of the guests who was obviously not in a mood to talk.

We walked into the chapel and pay our respects to JBJ. My wife and I had never seen JBJ before in real life. I felt a tinge of sadness that I never had the chance to shook the hands of this great man.

Philip thanked us for coming, his eyes were still red. JBJ has a history of heart problem, but his condition was stable all along. Nobody expects his heart will fail him suddenly last night. The medical team at TTSH had tried their best to revive him to no avail. God has brought his worthy son home.

We left halfway as the rain started to pour. As I walked pass the booth, I stole a glance at the Reform Party donation box with JBJ’s books piling on top of the table. I can’t help worrying about the future of Reform Party. Who is going to take over JBJ and complete his unfinished work ?


Source: Wayang Party Club

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The Loss of a Great man. A True Son of Singapore

Posted by jbjmemorial on October 3, 2008

Today is a sad day for Singaporeans. Today we mourn the loss of, arguably the greatest “Freedom Fighter” in Singapore. A man who stood by his beliefs, never backing away or compromising the values he believed in. Even in the face of relentless persecution. He will be revered and remembered. Today we mourn the loss of a great man, Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam.

Heartfelt condolences go out to his family. He will be missed.

A Lawyer, a Judge, an Opposition Party Leader, a Patriot, a Martyr and an inspiration to many. Jeyaretnam was the leader of the Workers’ Party of Singapore, challenging the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which had effectively ruled Singapore as a one-party state.

Representing the Workers’ Party, Jeyaretnam defeated the People’s Action Party’s Pang Kim Him in the 1981 Anson by-election becoming the first opposition MP in Singapore. He was again re-elected in 1984.


Jeyaretnam served as an MP for the Workers’ Party of Singapore from 1981-86, and again from 1997-2001. Having left the Workers’ Party, he recently formed the Reform Party to challenge the more than 40-year rule of the People’s Action Party.


He died from a heart attack at about 1:30am this morning.

Wikipedia Article on JB Jeyaretnam.

Youtube tribute to the great man.

Amnesty International- background of defamation cases

‘Come, walk with me, let us walk together… for peace, justice, truth… fearing no one except God,’ Quote from Mr Jeyaretnam.


Thank you Sir, for your courage, strength and shining example. Thank you for standing up for truth, thank you for standing in the gap.


Source: Power to the Singapore People

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