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Two letters on JBJ from our readers.

JBJ – a tribute and a response to PM’s letter

The following are two articles which TOC received in response to Mr JB Jeyaretnam’s death.The first, by Ho Cheow Seng, pays tribute to Mr JBJ. The second, by Koh Jie Kai, is in reply to the PM's condolence message.

By Ho Cheow Seng

"From dust to dust", a wayside stop on our journey to the Destination beyond. And so even as we acknowledge in our hearts the respect that he richly deserves, we ask that the Almighty will finally give him the justice that he so valiantly fought for whilst he lived, and that he may finally find his peace in his Maker.

He was a good man; more than that, he was a true son of Singapore. Not all Singaporeans will agree with me but most of the people I know would readily share my sentiments. We may not agree with his politics but we may yet cherish the man for no better reason than that he showed a whole generation of younger Singaporeans what it means to have  conviction backed by courage, resilience and the readiness to pay heavily for one's belief.

Whilst one may physically destroy a man such as JBJ was, his spirit nevertheless goes marching on. True, he fought and he lost. But we know that if he were to live his life all over  again, he would not flinch from doing once again what he believed to be right and true. Indeed for JBJ, man does not live by bread alone.

Finally it was not whether he won or he lost that mattered, but that he fought his best and for a cause that he was prepared to pay for with his life. This, perhaps, is what greatness in a man is about.

And now may God grant him eternal rest in His Heavenly Abode.

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By Koh Jie Kai

"...[H]e 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."

One could be forgiven for assuming that the above comments were spoken of the career of a terrorist.

No wonder many of us felt somewhat slightly uneasy reading the Prime Minister's condolence letter to JBJ's sons. Leaving aside the merits of our defamation laws for the moment, it is bad enough to receive an awkward epistle from a man who had helped to destroy your father's political career through many a lawsuit. (Now, no accusations of accusing me of any judicial bias anyone; the earlier sentence is still a fair statement because I also think that the Singaporean judiciary believes in good faith that we can only maintain social stability if our leaders are not unnecessarily disrespected by the general public, and everyone should have the right to defend their reputation under the law of the land if they so choose.)

But choosing words which, if taken out of context, makes your father's political career sound like one of unapologetic terrorism - now that was somewhat distasteful.

For the record, JBJ was no wrecker of Parliamentary tradition. His political ideology was in the tradition of democratic socialism, not violence-addicted communism. He stood for elections. And he won them fair and square. He made many speeches in Parliament. And he was against the GRC system. If nothing else, JBJ was one of Singapore's great defenders of representative democracy.

However, JBJ may not have helped build a constructive opposition as much as he could have. Efforts by the PAP leadership to dominate Singapore's political landscape did not help. But there were other factors at play. JBJ was a charismatic politician, and a compelling speaker. His gravelly, old-English-school accent made an impression on everyone who has ever had the privilege of hearing his public speeches. He was so well known as a household name that a local playwright used his name in the title of a local drama production.

However, his charisma was also a grave political weakness. His was essentially a one-man show, more of a symbol of opposition in Singapore rather than a builder of institutionalized resistance against the PAP. It is doubtful whether his newborn Reform Party will continue to make a significant impact on the Singapore political landscape now that he is gone.

One final note to the Prime Minister: it is embarrassing to point out that 15 years after Senior Minister Goh had to intervene to stop JBJ's sons from being treated as personae non gratae, a significant proportion of the voting public continues to believe that criticizing the ruling party will lead them becoming marked men or women. So much for the PAP being thought of as a terrific defender of Parliamentary tradition in a form we could call "democratic".
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