Today Singaporeans 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 saddened to learn of JB Jeyaretnam’s demise in the early hours of 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 people, championing their cause and on many occasions representing their interests without payment. He was there for them – all the time.
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The picture that remains in my mind goes back 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 went on to become 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. But she passed away the previous year without being part of the victory – but she was 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 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, 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 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.
4 October 2008