TOC Interview: Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s debut

Darren Boon

Same goals as JBJ but “I’m my own man”

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the scion of the late politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, has joined and been co-opted into the CEC of the Reform Party.  In an interview with The Online Citizen (TOC), the younger Mr Jeyaretnam, an economist by training, expressed his wish that the Reform Party would field him as a candidate in the next general elections. 

In the interview, Mr Jeyaretnam appeared hesitant to discuss his policies concretely: “It’s too early to advocate specific policies…I don’t really want to talk about those at the moment.”

However, he tells TOC: “Generally I think that the government focuses too much on GDP growth for its own sake where it should be focussing on things like GDP growth per capita and the incomes of ordinary Singaporeans.”

“I think that the country as a whole has too high a savings rate.  And we need to increase domestic consumption.  Excess savings…this is a global problem but I think Singapore is a particularly acute case because personal consumption is 40 per cent of GDP whereas I think in the U.S, it’s about 70 per cent,” he added.  

Mr Jeyaretnam also sees a problem for the ‘less-well educated’ and the ‘less-skilled sections’ of the workforce.  He highlights the problem of the non-existence of a minimum wage and the few or no restrictions on the mobility of labour coming from abroad.  As such, he states that “wages are always under pressure for the less well-off sections of the population”. 


He remained coy when asked to divulge further details although he signalled his intention to address these issues in the coming weeks.  He said, “We’re still in the process of drafting a manifesto for the Reform Party.”

Politics and the family

Mr Jeyaretnam admits to his reluctance in pursuing a career in politics despite his late father’s urging over the last 10 to 15 years, and when he initially returned to Singapore. 

The catalyst for his change of heart was the passing of his father, and on the requests of many people asking him to stand to “fill the void”.  He  feels that joining the Reform Party is the “most honourable thing to do” since his father set it up, but more so because he agrees with the “concept of reform”. 

“I like the name of the party,” he said.  “It’s a new party so it’s still at a formative stage…and I think the idea of reform, the idea of a political party promoting reform in Singapore is good.” 

As for his political aspirations, Mr Jeyaretnam hopes that his entry into politics would be able “show that economic prosperity and human rights and individual freedom are not incompatible” with one another.  He also hopes to dismiss the fear in the hearts of people of what might happen in joining the opposition.  Not looking towards reaping huge financial rewards in joining politics, he hopes to contribute to improving the welfare of ordinary Singaporeans. 

He credits his father for breaking the monopoly of the PAP when he stood and won in the Anson constituency twice, and for raising awareness amongst the people on their rights as citizens. 

In perhaps what is a preview of the younger Mr Jeyaretnam’s challenge to craft his own political persona, one could sense he was trying to strike a delicate balance between carrying on his father’s legacy and staking out his own positions.

Mr Jeyaretnam  made a distinction between him and his late father’s policies:  “That was 25 years ago, and even then I disagreed with many of his…I suppose…my father wasn’t an economist so you know…I’m my own man…and obviously I’ll have policies that I would advocate.”

“But obviously I have the same goals with regards to individual freedom and human rights and with regards to economic issues, I probably would see things differently from him…to some extent.”

Mr Jeyaretnam, who is married and has a 12-year old son, said that his wife and family are supportive of his decision to enter politics. He would not comment on what his brother, Philip Jeyaretnam, thought of his decision to join The Reform Party, though.

“You know my brother is his own man.  When we meet, we normally discuss family things.  I never discuss politics with him or his career, so you know I wouldn’t discuss mine,” he said.

“I love my brother.  He is my little brother and I love him, and I’m proud of his achievements,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Mr Jeyaretnam says there’s a lot of work for him to do, going forward. “I must be humble,” he said.


Visit Mr Jeyaretnam’s Facebook page here.


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