JOSHUA BENJAMIN JEYARETNAM 1926 – 2008
A PROTEGE’S TRIBUTE
WP’s Low Thia Khiang pays tribute to mentor who taught him about ‘political reality’
NEO CHAI CHIN
Mr Jeyaretnam waving to the crowd during a 1996 Workers’ Party rally in Raffles Place. AFP
THE year was 1986, and Mr J B Jeyaretnam had just been convicted of mis-stating the accounts of the Workers’ Party (WP).
Then a young politician with the WP, Mr Low Thia Khiang watched as Mr Jeyaretnam got ready for his time behind bars – a moment which remains one of Mr Low’s most vivid memories.
“I was in the office. The way he took off his bow tie and slowly took off his coat – the man had resolved to fight on even if he had to go to jail,” recounted Mr Low, who took over Mr Jeyaretnam’s post as WP secretary-general when the latter resigned in 2001, accusing its leadership of failing to help him fight his bankruptcy case.
“He told me to take care of the party.”
Mr Jeyaretnam’s conviction came just two years after he got re-elected in the 1984 General Election, by a wider margin than he’d achieved in the 1981 Anson by-election.
Mr Low was his election agent in 1984 and with the success, “of course we felt we had made it. That was the moment we really felt the high of the victory”.
Crediting him as the man who initiated him into politics, Mr Low – who met the press for half an hour yesterday at the Hougang Town Council – said fighting “shoulder to shoulder” with Mr Jeyaretnam in the 1980s and 1990s opened his eyes to Singapore’s “political reality”, and lessons in dodging “political minefields”.
The one-time master and his protege eventually adopted different political styles, with Mr Jeyaratnam once criticising Mr Low for his low-profile approach. Had Mr Jeyaretnam not left the WP, he could have given more “impetus” to it.
“Unfortunately, that’s life,” said Mr Low, who in a statement had credited Mr Jeyaretnam for leading the party “through a number of crisis and (assuring) WP’s continuance on its political path”.
What was important, he said, was that Mr Jeyaretnam paved the way for opposition politicians. “He joined a political party, he led a political party, and he fought for the rights of Singaporeans. And even with such difficult conditions where many a time there were frustrations, there was anger, he stayed in Singapore and continued to fight on,” said Mr Low.
“So, Mr Jeyaretnam is no armchair critic, even though he doesn’t know very much about the Internet or political discourse with the Internet. He put his words into action.”
In his statement, Mr Low said WP “mourned the passing of a giant in Singapore politics”.
Ms Chee Siok Chin of the Singapore Democratic Party said Mr Jeyaretnam’s passing was a great loss for local politics and for the country.
“Mr Jeyaretnam has been tireless in his stand on human rights and democracy. He leaves a legacy behind, a very important legacy,” she said.