Remembering a firebrand
Fri, Jan 08, 2010
The New Paper

By Lediati Tan

SOME young people were among under 100 people at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park last night to remember old political firebrand JBJ.

Others there included Mr JB Jeyaretnam's past supporters, opposition party members and his family.

All turned up to commemorate the man who would have turned 84 yesterday.

About 10 people who spoke at the event last night praised Mr Jeyaretnam as one who spoke up for the underdogs and who battled with the ruling party.

The young people there were born after his historic win in 1981 and had developed their political awareness after Mr Jeyaretnam was out of the political limelight.

To these youngsters, Mr JB Jeyaretnam is best remembered for two things.

One, as the elderly man peddling books to raise funds under the hot sun in public areas.

And as the man embroiled in many legal battles with several members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

For the older generation, Mr Jeyaretnam was the first opposition Member of Parliament (MP) since Singapore's independence after he won the Anson by-election in 1981.

Mr Jeyaretnam died from heart failure on 30 Sep 2008 while he was trying to make a political comeback.

He had just formed a new party, The Reform Party, in June that year, and had plans to contest in the next general election.

RESPECT BY CANDLELIGHT: A poster of Mr JB Jeyaretnam sits on a park bench behind supporters who held a vigil for the late opposition leader.

Respect from the young

How do the young view the late Mr Jeyaretnam? A 23-year-old undergraduate who was also at the event told The New Paper that he respected Mr Jeyaretnam for doggedly offering alternative political views.

But he did not want to give his name because he did not want to be associated with the memorial event.

He said: "I admit that I have a small fear that it would affect my future in some way."

But isn't this contradictory to the example set by Mr Jeyaretnam?

While recognising that Mr Jeyaretnam deserved to be recognised for his political contributions, he added: "But a career as a political opposition is not viable financially."

Another young attendee, however, did not feel that being identified as Mr Jeyaretnam's supporter was a problem.

Said student Jackson Tan, 25: "I admire him a lot. His belief that the political system should work for the people is something that I believe in."

Mr JB Jeyaretnam's eldest son Kenneth gives a short speech to visitors at Hong Lim Park.

He added that he was not concerned about repercussions because he believed that "as long as I can justify my stand, I shouldn't be afraid".

"There's no reason why we cannot speak out," he said.

"What's holding me back is not so much my passion, but that I don't think I have the charisma and the leadership abilities.

"But I'm willing to talk about things openly, and put my name there, and not remain anonymous."

JBJ's ideas live on in the blogosphere

TWO young boys in yellow tees duelled with rolled-up umbrellas in Hong Lim Park. It's a green and pleasant square in the heart of the city.

Dusk fell at 7pm, there's music from the CC as members of some exercise group rose and squat their moves. Around a mound of grass at one end of the park, people milled.

Young and old, men and women, about 100 gathered to remember Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, grandfather of one of the lads playing with the brollies.

JBJ, the initials that go down in Singapore history as the first opposition party candidate to be elected a Member of Parliament, a position he served for the Workers' Party of Singapore from 1981-86 and 1997-2001.

"I admire him a lot. His belief that the political system should work for the people is something that I believe in."
- student Jackson Tan, 25

He died at 82, in 2008, just months after he'd formed the Reform Party (having left the Workers' Party). Memorial

Yesterday would have been his 84th birthday, and friends and family and supporters thought, why not a memorial, in Speakers' Corner, across the road from the old Thong Cai Medical Hall now selling Forever Living Products.

Jared, the 13-year-old son of Amanda and Kenneth Jeyaretnam, JBJ's first-born of two boys, looked sad.

His mum said: "He loved his granddad a lot, and had never entered a church before, till his grandfather's funeral."

She encouraged him to go play with Evans, son of a family friend at the memorial. The boys ran off with their brolly lightsabres.

Friend after friend stepped up to the knoll to say a few words, lit by torchlight, in praise and remembrance of JBJ, and his lone, dogged opposition voice (until Chiam See Tong in '84).

"Whatever you may say, he was truly loyal to Singapore" was the oft-quoted. What was surprising was the number of young people in the crowd. And how more vocal they are than their elders.

But you can't have known JBJ, you're too young (I say to a 15-year-old student).

He replies: "I have bought his book and I have read it, and I share in his beliefs and his values. I did not buy his book to help or support him, but because I am inspired by him."

JBJ is alive in the blogosphere, as the 20 somethings said they were at the commemoration "through Facebook and Online Citizen and many other blogs".

A couple of characters who looked like they'd step out from manga comics, who you'd expect to be out clubbing, said: "Today's generation donno how, they don't care about their future. I read his book, I share his views."

One person said: "Look at that, the CC stage behind, with lights and mikes. And here we are, on the grass, reading aloud by candlelight."

Candles were lit by 8pm, casting a glow on the photographs of JBJ, his books and commemorative T-shirts in a box on a park bench.


This article was first published in The New Paper.


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