Random Rumination: J.B.Jeyaretnam

MR J.B. Jeyaretnam (JBJ) died from heart failure at 2.57am on 30th September 2008.

A couple of years ago, I saw him hawking the sale of his book, “The Hatchet Man of Singapore” outside CentrePoint. His gaunt and haggard looks convinced me that his days were somewhat numbered. So a couple of weeks later, I asked my SMU friend to purchase a copy of his book with his autograph for me. I rationalized that that the autographed book would indeed be worth a lot when his time is up.

Silly me, right?

Fast forward to 2008, he had been freshly discharged from bankruptcy and registered his new party, Reform Party. A potential political battle was brewing as sideliners speculated a showdown between him and Lee Kuan Yew for the next general election. And most recently, he intended to challenge the High Court over the decision not to conduct a by-election in Jurong GRC following the death of one of the MPs, Dr Ong Chit Chung.

But yesterday, he passed away.

All that political ambitions he harboured had seemed to gone to waste. (Unless his son, Philip Jeyaretnam decides to take up that formidable baton, that remains as pure speculation.)

Throughout his life, he has lived beyond his ideals could take him.

Representing the Workers’ Party, he shattered parliamentary monopoly held by People’s Action Party (PAP) in the landmark 1981 Anson by-election. Re-elected again in the 1984 General Election, his presence in parliament was indeed unwelcomed.

JBJ soon learnt that being a pioneer in opposition politics does not translate to a red-carpet treatment. In the next couple of years that follow, he was ousted and prevented from participating in the next election by not-so-inconspicuous political engineering. Even after managing to return to parliament as a non-constituency MP in the 1997 General Election, his stay was short-lived, thanks to the slew of defamation lawsuits which quickly bankrupted him.

While Chee Soon Juan would purposefully go against “unjust laws” in hope of revealing the purportedly biased nature of the judiciary system, it was my study on JBJ’s cases that personally convinced me that the local judiciary isn’t as impartial and independent.

The International Bar Association has summarized the inequities that JBJ had suffered in its July report on Singapore Judiciary System, pages 30 to 35. Presented in a very comprehensible manner, you can download the report from:http://www.ibanet.org/images/downloads/07_2008_July_Report_Singapore-Prosperity_versus_individual_rights.pdf

As I flipped to my autographed copy of “The Hatchet Man of Singapore”, there lingers a tinge of regret. The opportunity to meet him on a personal level had slipped by…

For your conviction and commitment, tenacity and valour, principles and ideals, integrity and honour, I salute you, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam.

A great inspiration for Singaporeans, who aspire to be that political giant you have been.

God Bless.


Who should take “The Blame”?

Although it is now past midnight, I could not resist the urge to reply a comment that was published on The Online Citizen. Titled “Singaporeans, take responsibility!“, the person “Sg-PR” called on Singaporean to stop blaming others and start taking responsibility.

While I believe that this stand is unpopular, but I do believe that true-blue Singaporeans are partially to be blamed for underachieving. Yet Sg-PR has done everyone a disfavour by harping only on one point and arguing from a single perspective, backed by his own personal experience. His dualistic approach oversimplies the conundrum that Singapore is facing and make it seem that foreigners are the solution to Singapore’s prosperity.

For every Singaporean student he/she claims to be underachieving, I can think of another foreign student that can fit the similar bill, or Singaporean who obliterates academic competition. However, I am most perturbed by the myth of meritocracy that supports the main line of argument.

I go as far to propose that meritocracy is not fair, even though the principle of meritocracy attempts to award on basis of merit.

The common analogy would be to liken life as a race. Meritocracy would reward the person who can complete it in the shortest possible time. But the biggest loophole is that there is no common starting point.

The educational race would much favour the rich if we assume the stereotypical scenario of excessive tuition and enrichment classes, as opposed to those of lower income levels.

The NS factor is another hurdle that all healthy Singaporean male would have to cross. And no, anyone who thinks that those two years are going to be useful icings on one’s resume, should have a reality check.

Finally, taking on an open-door labour policy, the number of contestants in this race would increase exponentially. While at the end of the day, the race would have clocked record timings, courtesy of increased competition, the unfortunate tradeoff would be that Singaporeans who have been relatively slower would lose out.

Taken to both extremes of labour policy, it would most certainly be detrimental to Singapore. While I admittedly favour a slightly less xenophobic outlook, my chief concern would be to level the competition so that Singaporeans, be it rich or poor, male or female, can start off at roughly the same point in this race of life.

Only then, can we judge whether that Singaporeans are truly underachievers.

3 Scenarios… Hush

The headlines screamed out “I voted for PAP in 2006 elections: WP candidate” on Straits Times online yesterday. After googling Yaw Shin Leong, I found his latest post “A Vote For The Other Side” on his blog.

After giving much thought, I propose three possible scenarios which Yaw could find himself in.

Scenario 1
Contesting Party: Solely between opposition parties excluding Workers’ Party
Who should he vote: Doesn’t really matter

Admittedly, this scenario is highly improbable since People’s Action Party (PAP) had contested for all seats since 1968 Parliamentary General Elections. But it is important to note that Yaw would have the freedom to exercise his vote without much brouhaha even if he made his vote known.

Scenario 2
Contesting Party: PAP VS Any Opposition Party (excluding WP)
Who should he vote: Preferably opposition party but definitely debatable

This was the unfortunate scenario that Yaw faced in General Elections 2006. In Bukit Panjang Single Member Constituency (SMC), it was Ling How Doong (from SDP) facing off against Teo Ho Pin (from PAP). Yaw voted for Teo as he explained he did not believe in opposition for opposition’s sake.

In fact, I do agree with him that there is “nothing inherently wrong for me to vote for an MP, regardless of his/her partisan background”.

Yet, Yaw must remember the definition of politics in a dominant one-party state of Singapore has in many ways, been skewed to a dichotomous polity, that is, the opposition against the PAP.

While I’m convinced that Yaw genuinely subscribe to respectable ideals, there are many who would vehemently disagree and argue that a vote for PAP must be construed as a vote for opposition.

Yaw is an active political member. By publicizing his vote, it is imperative to preempt and weigh the various consequences associated to this relatively contentious move.

Other questions to consider:

  • What are the motivations behind revealing the PAP vote?
  • With respect to liberal opposition supporters, would this have any detrimental effect on WP?
  • Would PAP exploit this incident in future elections against WP?
  • Worse, what if Teo from PAP contest against WP?

Thus a “safer” compromise would be to keep the vote secret, especially if it is a vote for the ruling party.

Scenario 3
Contesting Party: Any party VS Workers Party
Who should he vote: Workers Party

Yaw attempts to achieve a compromise by rationalizing…

Partisan considerations will certainly weigh heavily in my considerations. Having said that, ultimately this WP candidate has to convince me that he/ she has what it take to better serve the interests of our country and the constituents to win my vote.

In this situation, I think partisan interest must override personal beliefs.

By joining WP, Yaw should have agreed to the basic tenets and beliefs of the party. A non-WP vote can mean a vote of no confidence towards the party members, leaders and the party at large.

The only way that Yaw can continue voting a non-WP party should be to quit and free himself from the partisan obligations he cannot commit.

Silence is golden. Some things are simply better left unsaid.

The ERP Miracle

How staff from one firm beat the new ERP gantry
By Maria Almenoar

ERA agent Leong Yoke Leng got a few minutes more of sleep and saved $3 in Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges on Monday morning – all because her company let her start 15 minutes later.

She pays $2 for driving down the Central Expressway before 9am and would have to fork out another $1 when she crosses a new ERP gantry.

Her property company, however, is allowing employees a later start at work so that they can save $1 in ERP charges now that a new gantry at Toa Payoh Lorong 6 is in operation.

The Toa Payoh gantry was one of the five new gantries which started operations on Monday in a bid to seal more of the outer cordon of the Central Business District.

Also in operation only in the mornings, the other new gantries are at Upper Boon Keng Road, Upper Bukit Timah, Kallang Bahru and Geylang Bahru and all charge motorists $1.

Traffic in the Upper Boon Keng and Kallang Bahru area remained relatively the same on Monday morning, observed a Straits Times team.

On both roads, traffic was light during the ERP charging periods, and this reporter was able to drive between 40kmh and 50kmh – the same as last week before the gantries were in operation.

Over at Upper Bukit Timah, traffic remained relatively heavy between 8am and 8.30am, an indication that motorists were willing to pay that extra $1.

ERP, introduced in 1998, aims to control congestion by charging drivers for the use of busy roads and getting them to use public transport.

The five new gantries bring the total to 60. Another 11 will come up before November.

The Land Transport Authority says those affected can use premium bus services costing between $2.5 and $7 per morning trip into the city.

Land Transport Authority (LTA) should be given a nobel prize for innovating such a miraculous traffic solution.

Thanks to the burgeoning number of ERP gantries, Singaporeans such as Leong Yoke Leng can stand to sleep more and save more money!

PQ, Political Quotes

Everyone loves a good quote, once in a while. So here’s a few to cause some indigestion to your pathetic cynical life.

Let’s begin in chronological order…

“The PAP believe in the freedom of the press which means objective reporting and the accurate dissemination of news. But what do we find in the Straits Times? When the SPA (Singapore People’s Alliance) or the Liberal Socialists hold a rally and there are 600 people present they say 4,000 but, when thousands attend a PAP rally, they do not give the real figures.”

Yong Nyuk Lin, PAP leader
during 1959 general election campaign

What about the recent 5th Singapore Forum on Politics held recently in NUS?

“…as long as Singapore’s leaders do not pay heed to the fundamental needs of the human spirit, they can never be called wise, only clever, and as long as the nation they lead is admired only for its material achievements, it can never be called great, only successful.”

Dr. Catherine Lim, local writer

“It would be very sad if we were Singaporeans who have lived all our lives here to build a Singapore and retire in a Singapore we cannot recognize and in a Singapore with no Singaporeans.”

Kevin Tan, A/P on S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

I thought the recent PS2249 reading I did on Meritocracy and Elitism in Singapore was pretty good.

“Governance in Singapore is precariously built upon faith in good and wise men, rather than good and wise institution.”

Kenneth Paul Tan, A/P NUS Political Science Dept

Ah… Everyone has something to say about the 2008 Budget.

“Sir, I want to live in a country that cares for its people first and foremost, not a country that prioritises GDP growth for its own sake. I want to see a nation where Singaporeans are valued for everything that we are, not just the economic contribution we can make. I want to grow old in a state that places a higher premium on helping citizens, than on ensuring that there is no wastage. I want to be part of a generous society that helps its most vulnerable members, instead of counting the pennies and tightening the purse strings.”

Siew Kum Hong, NMP

Lastly, the recent escape of suspected JI terrorist.

“Two, where are the footages of security cameras? There are cameras mounted in all prison facilities precisely to prevent such situations. The Whitley Detention Centre is no exception. If the Elections Department has a CCTV camera and can produce video footages, surely Mr Wong can now produce footage of the moments that led to the detainee’s escape.”

Dr. Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of Singapore Democratic Party

Political Poem

It’s been a tiring day for me, especially after an overwhelmingly tedious yet extremely fulfilling “5th Singapore Forum on Politics”. Before I retire in bed, I feel compelled to share a small part of the forum:

Dr. Catherine Lim was expectedly a colourful and imaginative speaker, able to hold her audience captive. She rounded up her speech with a rather funny poem which some of you might have read somewhere before.

(Based on a well-known statement made by Lee Kuan Yew: that even when dead, he would instantly spring up from his coffin should there be a problem out there for him to solve.)

‘The coffin was enormous
To match the godlike status;
For both in life and death
He was a real Colossus.

Someone who with the opposition
Was clearly in cahoots
Whispered, ‘Ah, a new dawn,
No more defamation suits!’

At which the corpse sprang right up
‘Who said that?’ it roared,
‘He’s defaming my good name,
So get our lawyers on board!’

Forum 4 Reform

After a long hiatus from The Ridge Magazine, it’s back to some work. My first article for 2008.

SDP: Reform the election system

Kelvin Lim | kl@nus.edu.sg
the ridge news
A NUSSU Publication

On Jan. 20, 2008, the Singapore Democratic Party organized a public forum entitled “Reform of the Election System in Singapore” at the Allson’s Hotel.

Aimed at spearheading a national effort for a reform of the current election system, the main agenda was to brainstorm for solutions with the public.

Moderated by the chairman of Singapore Democratic Party, Gandhi Ambalam, the four panellists were Chia Ti Lik, J.B. Jeyaretnam, Jufrie Mahmood and Chee Soon Juan.

Tan Tarn How, a policy researcher at the Institute of Policy Studies was slated to speak, but backed out at the last minute.

Former Workers’ Party candidate and founding member of SG Human Rights Chia, said that the reform of current institutions can be achieved either in accordance to the law, or an establishment of a new legal order via “extra-electoral action.”

With the People’s Action Party in parliamentary majority, he said, the current system is skewed to give power towards the incumbent party.

Suggesting “extra-parliamentary” and “extra-legal” ways to compel the government to reform, Chia encouraged the audience to campaign openly and strongly for an independent election commission.

Chia also spoke disapprovingly of “acceptable” opposition parties and called to expose these PAP apologists and sympathizers.

He winded up his speech by questioning the audience whether they wanted an opposition that played by the rules of the ruling party.

Jeyaretnam, the former sectary-general of the Workers’ Party was the second speaker of the forum.

He likened the current state of affairs as “a planned system of denial”.

As a veteran player in the local political arena, he recounted his colourful experiences of past elections, covering on various issues such as the fear factor, denial of freedom for information and the lack of transparency.

In addition, Jeyaretnam lamented about the Political Donation Act which prohibited anonymous donations above $5,000 and the pressing need for a Freedom of Information Act.

He then rounded up by recollecting the “blatant intimidation of voters” during the 1996 elections in the now-defunct Cheng San Group Representation Constituency.

Veteran oppositionist Jufrie started with an analogy of the martial art of karate whereby the main objective is to attack the opponent’s weakest spot.

And the weakest spot of the PAP, he opinionated would be the minds of Singaporeans.

Jufrie then elaborated that reform would thus have to begin with the mass media. Citing numerous anecdotes, he griped that local reporters had “no sense of shame.”

Jufrie drew laughter and applause from the audience when he made a similar observation as Chia, that some opposition parties had chosen to be a “poodle” instead of a “watchdog” in parliament.

In all, he called upon the audience to start a campaign against the media, in view of the numerous PAP apologists in the press.

Addressing particularly to the journalists, he urged them to “do their part not for PAP or the opposition, but for Singapore”.

The final speaker of the forum was Chee, the secretary-general of SDP. Moving the spotlight away from the PAP, he challenged the audience by methodically laying down a list of actions towards electoral reform.

They were:
1. Research best practices
2. Develop website
3. Publish training manual for poll watchers
4. Recruit and train poll watchers
5. Raise awareness
6. Seek support from bloggers
7. Seek international observers – United Nations, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Foundation for Election Systems, Asian Network for Free Elections
8. Learn from overseas reform campaigns
9. Engage the Prime Minister’s Office and the Elections Department

He emphasized that the reform of the election system is not a partisan issue and hoped to engage with a myriad of opposition parties, civil society groups, academics and women’s group in this national effort.

While Chee was disappointed at the non-participation from other opposition parties, he was determined not to be deterred.

Chee challenged the audience “to do more and to do better”, and rhetorically questioned to be “men or mice, woman or wimp, citizen or slaves”.


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