Recently discharged from bankruptcy, former Workers’ Party chief JB Jeyaretnam announced that he is registering a new political party.
Wearing a polo shirt with the words “The Truth Will Set You Free”, Mr Jeyaretnam fired off a list of issues which he wants reformed or corrected. Among them, the rule of law, the courts, the police, the civil service, the trade unions, the media and the election process.
The litany of these issues took up almost one hour of his press conference.
The president’s salary: Criticising the president’s salary, Mr Jeyaretnam called it “an abuse of public funds” and asked why the president needed to be paid such a high salary. He also criticized the election of the president. “He was no more elected than Lee Kuan Yew was elected minister mentor”, he said.
Election process: “We got to do away completely with the election process. We got to take the election process and give it to an independent body – an independent election commission.”
The courts: Mr Jeyaretnam called for a judicial commission which will have the power to appoint judges, and taking this power away from the prime minister. “In a country with a constitution, the courts are the most important, even more important than parliament. The courts are the guardians of the constitution.”
The police and law enforcement agencies: “The police should be moved out of ministerial control….We should have the police turned into a corporation, like in Britain, answerable to parliament.”
The trade unions: Calling for the trade unions to be independent, Mr Jeyaretnam asked, “What other country in the world has a cabinet minister as head of a trade union?”
The press: Apologising to members of the media who were present, he described the press as a ‘scandal’. “The press in Singapore is the voice of the government. It’s time we had an independent press worthy of our society.”
Mr Jeyaretnam then surprised many in the audience by announcing that he is forming a new political party. This new party will solely be focused on effecting “a complete change in the way that this country is being run.” Thus, the tentative name he has chosen for the party is “The Reform Party”. “But I will have to see if the others in the party will agree.”
“I have spent all these years of my life trying to do something for them (Singaporeans). I’m already 81. And I’ve to tell Singaporeans that we’ve got to say enough is enough. We’ve had enough now. I would like Singaporeans to say that they want a complete change with the way the country has been run.”
Urging Singaporeans to join him and his new party, Mr Jeyaretnam said he only wants “Singaporeans who want a change in this country. It’s time for change.”
“If any Singaporean is happy with the system in Singapore at the moment, he shouldn’t come to us. Go and see Mr Chiam See Tong or Low Thia Khiang who are happy with the system.”
Criticising the Workers’ Party secretary general, Mr Jeyaretnam quoted MM Lee Kuan Yew as saying “Mr Low Thia Khiang did a good job in getting Jeyaretnam out of the Workers’ Party.” He added, “I’m sure Low must have known that when he opposed the party doing anything to help me, he was serving the cause of the PAP. The PAP wanted me to be kept as a bankrupt.”
Turning to his new party, Mr Jeyaretnam said he ‘wanted hundreds of Singaporeans to come and join us.” He also revealed that he has ‘more than’ the 9 persons he needed to register the new party.
Suggesting that the party could be called “The Reform Party”, he said this is because ‘reform will be its main plank – reform the system of government, reform society, all sectors of society.”
Asked by a Reuters journalist about funding for his new party, Mr Jeyaretnam said that there will be a subscription fee to join the party.
“If Singaporeans aren’t interested, they don’t want a new party dedicated tot his objective, well so be it. But if Singaporeans come forward, I hope they will also bring the money with them.”
Asked if he would join the Singapore Democratic Party instead of forming a new party and if he has spoken to Dr Chee, who champions some of the same issues as him, Mr Jeyaretnam said he hasn’t spoken to Dr Chee.
“I want to found a party which is totally dedicated to this – change in government and the society. And I think it will be good to start anew – a new name, a new party, a breakaway from all the other parties.”
Mr Jeyaretnam’s answer to the question of whether he sees himself contesting the next elections under this new party was, “I don’t see why not – unless, of course, the government moves against me again.”
Would he be running for the next elections, considering that he is already 81 years old?
“Well, I don’t know. It’s in the hands of the man above there, whether I will have the strength and the health. But even if I can’t, I hope to be able to get others who share the same ideals to run.”
His next task, Mr Jeyaretnam said, is to get his practising licence back. He will “do counsel work and take up cases which no one in Singapore is willing to take up.”
This report is by Andrew Loh, who is also a member of the Workers’ Party and the owner of theonlinecitizen. Any bias in the report is not intentional.
Read also Choo Zheng Xi’s commentary on Mr Jeyaretnam’s return to politics: JBJ’s return to politics – Method in the madness?
Channelnewsasia’s report is here.
Reuters’ report is here.
Below is part one of the video on the press conference, courtesy of watchtower.
Part two is here.