In Commemoration of JB Jeyaretnam

With the death of JBJ, Singapore might just have earned a political symbol of resistance to the government.

Not that there haven't been any before -- the history of Singapore Malaya is loaded with freedom fighters who were crushed and forgotten. Now, we are left only with a revisionist history of our nation's founding.

Most folks reading this probably dont know the significance of JBJ. He is a figure who is very local to Singapore. Still, it is important for me to write about him here, even if briefly. I will say he was a bourgeois politician, who believed in at best, a British system of parliamentary democracy in Singapore, who saw the ruling party PAP botch even that ideal. Nonetheless, he fought for what he believed in despite a lot of repression, against a very formidable and unscrupulous government. The Singapore government's method of repression is always "clean." It seldom involves outright repression -- beating and torture. That would garner too much attention and wreck the image of Singapore being the only uncorrupted, clean, efficient nation in the chaos of Southeast Asia. Rather, it is through clandestine ways, such as dragging political activists out in long drawn-out court battles, fines, etc that would cause them to declare bankrupcy and create a whole lot of emotional and financial stress...thus making it IMPOSSIBLE to organize, IMPOSSIBLE to pool resources together in the absence of any functional grass roots organizations which if ever were present, had been effectively squashed by the government.

I remember seeing JBJ give out pamphlets and giving speeches in front of Centerpoint, in Orchard Road, when I was growing up. I had no idea that those simple acts, and others that had the intention of stirring up opposition to the ruling party, would get him sued and eventually cause him to file for bankrupcy. He was often seen as a looney, giving out flyers to a somewhat apathetic, and largely fearful audience. Fearful of the "Singapore swing," where it was popularly believed that any criticism of the government would get one arrested by Internal Security, basically detention without trial, reserved for political activists. To his credit, JBJ didn't give up and was always butting heads with the government. He built up organizations, bourgeois political parties that would compete against the government during election times. He belonged to that older generation of Singapore and Malaysia whose memories I wish I could tap, to understand what went on in those tumultuous 1960 days.


picture taken from Yawning Bread

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