JBJ in 1981
J.B. Jeyaretnam: with garland, after 1981 victory (Photo: Straits Times)

JBJ 1981
Anson by-election: J.B. Jeyaretnam on a victory tour (Photo: Straits Times)

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Day of democracy unforgotten – A tribute to Mr J B Jeyaretnam by Melvin Tan, 31 Oct 2007

On this day 26 years ago, Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party became the first opposition candidate to be elected since Singapore’s independence in 1965, ending the PAP’s one-party monopoly in Parliament.

He clinched Anson constituency, the same ward captured by WP’s founder and former Chief Minister, Mr David Saul Marshall, in 1961.

Upon his successful election as MP, Mr Jeyaretnam faced and fought against harsh odds.

Firstly, he was denied an office to conduct his Meet The People (MPS) sessions.

Secondly, the People’s Association grassroots refused to permit his access.

Nevertheless, he overcame these difficulties by holding MPS in a resident-supported makeshift office and organising his own grassroots body with the help of WP members.

One year later on 31 October 1982, the WP held the first Democracy Day Dinner in Anson in celebration the occasion’s anniversary.

A former district judge, Mr Jeyaretnam’s first bid for a seat in Parliament was in the 1972 general election (GE) in Farrer Park, a year after joining and reviving the WP.

Five electoral defeats (three GEs and two by-elections) later, he finally made a breakthrough in the 1981 by-election.

He was re-elected again in Anson in the 1984 GE.

Unfortunately, his second tenure was shorter this time.

Two years later in 1986, a heavy fine saw him disqualified from Parliament, losing his seat and the party’s sole seat in the process.

He was also barred from contesting elections for five years.

Despite this, he continued to serve as WP’s Secretary-General and remained active, including offering free legal advice at the party’s headquarters.

Mr Jeyaretnam ventured to return for the GE immediately following the expiry of his ban in November 1991 but snap polls called for in August 1991 was three months before he could do so.

A by-election was held in 1992 in Marine Parade GRC but a WP team slated to contest there did not manifest due to an unexpected glitch.

In the 1997 GE, Mr Jeyaretnam surfaced as a candidate again and led a team to Cheng San GRC.

He was unable to secure a victory but did well enough within close shot to earn a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seat.

Embroiled in a defamation suit, Mr Jeyaretnam was declared a banrkrupt and once again had his NCMP seat vacated in 2000.

In 2001, Mr Jeyaretnam’s 30-year helm came to a conclusion when he left the party after what appeared to be incrementally inevitable disagreements with the younger WP leadership.

He continued to be a voice for the people, speaking at political forums and participating in political activities.

The Think Centre organised an unprecedented “Save JBJ Rally” in April 2001 in his support.

Needless to mention, he was invited to be the prime speaker of that rally.

In 2007, at the age of 81, he was finally discharged from bankruptcy and announced his plan to form a new political party, tentatively named Reform Party or Democratic Reform Party (DRP).

Hopefully, his Reform Party or DRP will be approved registration in due course and gain momentum to scale new heights in the Singapore political arena.

A salute to you, Mr Jeyaretnam, for your undying spirit.

31 October 1981 will forever remain a day to be remembered in history.

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