By Lee Siew Hoon/Imelda Saad
SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party said it is greatly saddened by the passing of its immediate past Secretary-General, JB Jeyaretnam.
A statement from Workers’ Party’s Secretary-General and Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang said the party mourns the passing of a giant in Singapore politics and sends its deepest condolences to Mr Jeyaretnam’s family on their bereavement.
The party also paid tribute to Mr Jeyaretnam for his commitment and contributions to public service.
He went into private law practice after leaving the judiciary as District Judge and First Magistrate in the Subordinate Court. The party said later, in private practice, he represented many clients with limited means.
Most would remember the former Workers’ Party chief as a fiery politician and orator, with trademark candour.
In 1971, Mr Jeyaretnam became the Workers’ Party’s Secretary-General and led the party to contest in the 1972 General Election in the Farrer Park seat, which was eventually won by the People’s Action Party’s Lee Chiaw Meng.
After electoral defeats in 1976, and the Telok Blangah by-election in 1979, he said: “I feel very sorry not for myself but feel sorry particularly for the young – the people who want change in Singapore.”
Mr Jeyaretnam finally made his breakthrough in 1981, when he defeated the ruling People’s Action Party’s Pang Kim Hin and the United People’s Front’s Harbans Singh in the Anson by-election.
In the process, he became the first opposition candidate returned to Parliament, 16 years after Singapore gained independence.
He retained the seat in the 1984 General Election, but had to vacate it in 1986 after he was convicted on charges of mis-stating his party’s accounts.
Mr Jeyaretnam was barred from standing for office until 1997. That year, he returned to Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP.
His fire-brand politics also saw him facing and contesting successive defamation suits by Singapore leaders – Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, for charges of slander between 1988 and 1995.
In 2001, Mr Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt, disbarred and prevented from taking part in elections. That was also the year he left the Workers’ Party, the party he had led since 1971.
But Mr Jeyaretnam found a fresh start seven years later, after being discharged as a bankrupt. In July this year, at the age of 82, he launched a new party, called the Reform Party. Mr Jeyaretnam had said that his was a party of change. – CNA/vm