VIDEOS: Reform Party Saturday, Apr 19 2008 

Ng Teck Siong, Chairman of the new Reform Party, introducing the party at a press conference on Friday, 18 Apr 2008, at the Quality Hotel at Balestier Road

JBJ talks on Reform Party’s action plan and constitution

Q & A – Part 1

Q & A – Part 2

Cartoon from my sketchbook

by my sketchbook

New party vows to fight Singapore ‘enslavement’, AFP, 19 Apr 2008

SINGAPORE (AFP) – – A tough-talking new political party vowed on Friday to fight what it called the “enslavement” of Singapore after nearly half-a-century of rule by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

“Our people have been enslaved all this while,” J.B. Jeyaretnam, 82, interim secretary general of the Reform Party, told a news conference.

He said Singaporean society has been “castrated” and its people left powerless by an executive that holds “absolute power.”

For Jeyaretnam, a rare voice criticising the PAP over the past decades, the party’s formation marks his full return to politics after emerging from bankruptcy and being reinstated as a lawyer.

“We now in the Reform Party are not going to play pussy-foot with the PAP,” he told reporters at the close of a lengthy address which outlined what he sees as the country’s social, political and economic problems.

“I think it’s time now to ask questions and hold the PAP to account,” he said.

Party officials said they held the news conference a day after filing documents to register their party.

The opposition plays only a marginal role in Singapore but Jeyaretnam made political history in 1981 when he became the first opposition politician elected to parliament. He was then secretary general of the Workers’ Party.

The lawyer was disbarred when he was declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay libel damages to members of the PAP, including former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

During his bankruptcy, he was reduced to hawking his self-penned books outside city subway stations.

Last year Jeyaretnam paid 233,255 Singapore dollars (now 172,578 US) to clear his bankruptcy, which had prevented him from running for political office, after help from friends and his prominent lawyer son.

He was also reinstated to the bar and has resumed legal practice.

On Friday, Jeyaretnam said he did not care whether Singapore’s “obedient press” reported his comments — which continued for 80 minutes.

“Some things have to be said,” he stated as he began the speech.

He said Singapore, which prides itself on having ‘First World’ status, faces a widening gulf between rich and poor.

Government leaders earn millions but many families survive on one or two thousand dollars a month (605-1,1210 US), yet nobody speaks up, he said.

“There is, I don’t have to tell you, a fear culture in Singapore,” Jeyaretnam said. “It’s a total enslavement of the people.”

He said the party’s registration documents contained the names of only 10 people — and even attracting that many was not easy.

“People are still afraid,” he said.

Asked whether his news conference in a hotel meeting room was being monitored by police, he replied: “I’m sure that it is.”

Jeyaretnam said he hopes not only to reform the structure of the Singapore system but also people’s way of thinking, to rouse them from a PAP-induced “slumber.”

Jeyaretnam said that, if he is physically able, he will stand as a candidate in the next general election due by 2011.

He called for a complete overhaul of the electoral system, which he said places opposition parties at a disadvantage. The PAP won all but two seats in last year’s polls for the 84-member parliament.

The country’s leaders say its tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped it achieve economic success. Thousands of foreign firms are based in Singapore, one of the most politically stable countries in the region.

The leaders dismiss criticisms from human rights groups who have said the government uses libel laws to silence critics, saying they have to protect their reputations.

Jeyaratnam spoke at a table with two other party officials beside him. To their left stood a white board which carried only two words in blue ink: “Reform Party.”

Singapore Opposition Veteran Says His New Political Party Will Fight To Empower The People Friday, Apr 18 2008 

By Gillian Wong, Associated Press Writer, 18 Apr 2008

J B JeyaretnamSINGAPORE – A veteran Singapore opposition figure said Friday his new political party will press for more help to the city-state’s poor and strive to empower citizens by raising awareness of their rights.

Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, who turned 82 in January, also said that he will contest the next parliamentary election, due by 2011, if his health permits.

“If I’m still here, if I’m still fit – of course,” he said when asked if he planned to run in an election. “I thank God that I’m still able. I don’t suffer from any major illnesses, diabetes, or asthma, or anything.”

In 1981, Jeyaretnam became the first opposition politician elected to Parliament since Singapore’s independence from Malaysia in 1965.

He was declared bankrupt in 2001 when he failed to pay more than S$600,000 (US$367,000; euro308,500) in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee’s predecessors Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and others.

Jeyaretnam emerged from bankruptcy last year after paying off damages from defamation lawsuits filed by the country’s leaders. Being solvent again makes him eligible to run in elections.

He told reporters he submitted an application Thursday to register the Reform Party as a political party and that it would take up to two months to be approved.

The new party would first reach out to Singaporeans to remind them of their political rights, of which Jeyaretnam said they have been deprived by the ruling People’s Action Party, or PAP, in the tightly controlled city-state.

“The battle plan is to try and energize our people, to rouse them from this slumber into which the PAP has led them,” Jeyaretnam said, while pledging to press the ruling party on a number of issues affecting the poor.

The PAP, which came to power in 1959, holds 82 out of 84 elected seats in Parliament.

He said the party will ask the government to remove a sales tax for basic necessities, including some foods, medicine and schoolbooks; improve the public health care system; and question the million-dollar salaries of Cabinet ministers, among other issues.

“I think it’s time for us to ask the questions and hold the PAP to account,” he said.

The party currently comprises ten members, the minimum required to register a political party, but would recruit more after it is registered, Jeyaretnam said.

He acknowledged that finding the first ten members just to register the party had been a challenge, which he attributed to a fear of joining the opposition.

“It’s not been easy, let me tell you, because simply that people are still afraid,” he said. “You can’t scoff at this idea of fear in Singapore. It’s very real, I know it.”

Singapore says its political system has democratic features, including elections, but that it does not seek a freewheeling, Western-style democracy that could foment tension and even chaos. Authorities tightly restrict speech and assembly, saying such controls provide the stability that has helped turn Singapore into a global economic powerhouse.

VIDEO & REPORT: Human Rights Torch Relay Reaches Police State Wednesday, Jan 23 2008 

Singapore Welcomes the Global Human Rights Torch Relay, George Fu, Epoch Times, 22 Jan 2008

The Global Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) arrived in Singapore this Saturday, 19 January, following a receptive welcome of over 200 supporters in Batam last week. A ceremony to welcome the torch was held at Changi, on the east coast of Singapore.

HRTR relay in SingaporeLocal politicians, lawyers and representatives of the “SG Human Rights Organisation” were among the citizens who came to support the torch and its worthy message: “The Olympics and Crimes against Humanity Cannot Coexist in China”.

President of The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG), Singapore Branch, human rights lawyer Mr. M. Ravi, welcomed the arrival of the torch, “This is an immensely important event as there has never been a human rights torch that has arrived in Singapore in this fashion.”

Veteran politician and lawyer JB Jayaretnam and John Tan, Assistant Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) both expressed their deep concern for and disappointment at the human rights abuses committed against various groups in China, especially Falun Gong – the most severely persecuted group in China today.

“This event for me is most symbolic above anything else. I hope it is going to have real pressure on the Chinese regime. They are not doing the right thing in terms of their abuse and they ought to stop the persecution,” said Mr Tan.

“If they want friendship of the world and if they want the participation of the Olympics in Beijing, they have to stop the abuse… not because they want business and cooperation, but it’s all part of being human and not to abuse the rights of other human beings”, he added.

Shortly after the human rights torch was ignited, a pick-up bearing the HRTR banner chauffeured two torch-bearing Olympic maidens, dressed in flowing white ancient Greek-style dresses, directly into the heart of the city and later to the Chinese embassy.

The sight was greeted with thumbs-ups and cheers by surprised weekend crowds and tourists along Orchard Road and City Hall. Motorists passing by the Chinese embassy looked on as a statement was read aloud, detailing the Chinese Communist Party’s various crimes committed against the Chinese people and humanity.

The statement closed with a demand that the crimes cease before the scheduled Beijing Olympics in August, especially the crime of harvesting organs from Falun Gong practitioners, while still alive, for profit. The statement was then handed over to a guard at the Embassy, who promised to pass it on to Embassy leaders.

“The torch turns on the spotlight on China’s atrocity against Falun Gong. We hope that at least today this torch will receive a given attention to all Singaporeans who would come to know that this torch has come to Singapore,” said Ravi.

The Global Human Rights Torch will be relayed through a total of 37 countries and more than 100 cities around the world until August this year. It is next scheduled to visit Sri Lanka, India and Africa.

Local Police Seize Human Rights Torch ‘For Investigation’

Shortly after the HRTR activities ended at Singapore’s landmark hill and frequent tourist spot, Mount Faber, six police officers, tagged by a cameraman, seized two Human Rights Torches and two HRTR banners from CIPFG members.

Categorizing the event as “illegal assembly”, the investigation officer said the torches and banners were needed to facilitate their “investigation”, and repeatedly demanded HRTR event participants to reveal their names and personal particulars, on the pretext of returning the props to the rightful owner after their investigation.

When the police were questioned about the purpose of the investigation and who would be held accountable for the confiscation of the items, no direct answer was given.

Some HRTR event participants told the police to arrest them if they had committed a crime, rather than take away the symbolic items. The police officers were hesitant and seemed uncertain. When the event participants walked away the police did not take any action.

The Human Rights Torch, gaining international attention from dignitaries and citizens around the world, is a symbol of justice and peace, standing for the sacredness of humanity’s fundamental rights.

The banners, which were also confiscated, read ‘Human Rights before Olympics’ and ‘Olympic Games and crimes against humanity cannot coexist in China’.

“The word ‘human rights’ has become a dirty word because of the government’s propaganda. There is no such thing as human rights, only until recent years, the notion of human rights at least,” said John Tan, who was at the scene.

“What is really significant is that Singaporeans are now vocal and daring enough to come out and say ‘hey, this is human rights, contrary to what the government has been telling us. Human rights do not belong to just the West. We want human rights too and we deserve human rights as well.”

31 Oct 1981 Friday, Nov 2 2007 

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)

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

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.

Video Of JBJ’s Press Conference Monday, May 21 2007 

My thanks to watchtowerv for the video of JBJ’s press conference yesterday and TheOnlineCitizen for its report. :-)

Return Of The “Warrior” Sunday, May 20 2007 

JBJ by Starby Seah Chiang Nee, Insight Down South, The Star, 19 May 2007

Singaporeans have greeted the news of JBJ’s rehabilitation by paying tribute to his dogged battle – despite huge losses – against a powerful force for 30 years.

Hope to see him fight again, says one writer; another believes his election chances are better now because “the Cabinet pay issue is a powerful ammunition.”

The “him” is Singapore’s old political warrior, J.B. Jeyaretnam, who has just emerged from six years of bankruptcy after paying off the final S$233,000 (RM518,900) fine for defaming government leaders.

He can resume his profession as a lawyer, travel abroad without permission and contest the next election in Singapore due in 2011.

Singaporeans – including some of Jeyaretnam’s critics – have greeted the news by paying tribute to his dogged battle despite huge losses against a powerful force for 30 years.

The 81-year-old JBJ, as he is widely known, has signalled that he will continue his opposition role.

How he will do it – such as by seeking a seat in Parliament – is not known. Given his urgency to pay off his bankruptcy, he probably will find a way, health allowing.

Jeyaretnam and Lee Kuan Yew, both in their 80s, are the only remnants of the pre-independence generation of politicians.

They are passionate politicians who had fought many fierce verbal battles in and out of Parliament.

Lee, two years older at 83, went on to help create today’s Singapore while JBJ moved to the other end of the political spectrum. He led the opposition Workers Party until 2001 when he was bankrupted in a S$600,000 (RM1.3mil) government defamation suit.

Taking on Lee had cost the outspoken lawyer dearly all these years, dragging him down with defamation fines of S$2mil (RM4.4mil), instead of enjoying hard-earned money.

His rehabilitation has stirred excitement in Singapore’s placid political waters, with some people predicting he will take on Lee himself in four years’ time.

The mainstream media has generally played down the story. As a result, Singaporeans posted their comments, mostly welcoming his return, on the Internet.

A few, however, said that – in age and in ideology – the former magistrate is past his time to serve as a new force.

Some die-hard fans are hopeful – rather prematurely – to see him back in Parliament to debate Lee again. Major obstacles will have to be overcome.

First, when election rolls around, he will be 85 years old and Lee, 87, and the prospect of seeing one or both contesting in an election is not a certainty.

Second, Jeyaretnam belongs to no party and his return to his old one is slim. This means that his best chance is to stand as an independent in a singles constituency.

Another big “if” is, of course, winning against an entrenched incumbent.

As Workers Party leader, the leftist politician had campaigned to tear down the system built by the PAP, but found little enthusiasm for it among the middle-class, which had benefited from it.

A strategic error – or was it his own ideological leaning – had cost him and his party dearly in the 80s and 90s.

Even as Singapore was prospering, Jeyaretnam stuck to the poorer non-English educated base, his declining support base, and abandoning the broad middle class to the ruling party.

JBJ also failed to attract young leaders into his fold; the result was a party dominated by one man. His successors are today still putting right his mistakes.

But few politicians today, next to Lee, can match Jeyaretnam’s passion, determination and debating skill. PM Lee Hsien Loong once praised him as a loyal Singaporean.

For six years, JBJ had struggled to pay off his debt – a forgotten man. No thanks to a media blackout, Singapore’s apathetic generation has only scant knowledge of him or his past role.

Often the white-haired man would be seen selling his books at busy shopping centres to raise funds, sometimes to the derision of young spectators. One person called him a “dishevelled, wild-looking man.”

But his return to politics could not have come at a better time, at least for himself.

The lingering public unhappiness over the Cabinet pay increase and other policies has propelled JBJ into the limelight, making him more important than otherwise.

The pay controversy may, in fact, have helped him raise the final S$233,255 (RM519,687) payment faster than it would normally have.

At this moment of change, Jeyaretnam’s hard-hitting rhetoric could liven up the political scene in Singapore. The younger PAP MPs will likely find it hard to match his experience and speaking ability.

The ripples may also be felt in the opposition camp, especially his former Workers Party.

JBJ’s hard-hitting style could influence or inspire some of its newer recruits, who had been growing impatient with what they saw was their leaders’ “lack of fire” in opposing authoritarian rule, a view Jeyaretnam shared.

“I don’t believe that confrontational politics is wrong, which is what the PAP would seem to imply. They talk about constructive criticism … (that is) within the parameters they’ve laid down,” he said in an interview a year ago.

With age, however, he seemed to have become more circumspect about his struggle.

He told TODAY he believes democratic ideals are on the rise among young Singaporeans.

“But, I’ve also noticed (that) … once they leave university, either their energies or their enthusiasm are sapped – as a result, I suppose, of the seen and unseen pressures of society.

“It’s when you have people who are prepared to stand up, march through the streets of Singapore, hold a public rally, then can they say ‘we are no longer afraid’,” he added.

That appears totally out of fashion with youths today – or in the foreseeable future.

It’s A Very High Price That I’ve Had To Pay – JBJ Sunday, May 13 2007 

Its been a long, hard fight for JBJ against these bastards in power who have constantly made use of the courts in order to silence their opponents.

I’ve really pitied him and what he has had to go through for so many years. I have great respect and admiration for him.

JBJ & Philip

There aren’t many photos out there of JBJ and his son, Philip, together but I managed to find this in a 2005 article from the law gazette. Its a nice photo. Thought I’ll put it here to accompany this post.

##########

Singapore opposition veteran discharged from bankruptcy

SINGAPORE, May 11 (Reuters) – Veteran Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam said on Friday he had paid off damages in defamation suits brought by the government, which should discharge him as a bankrupt and allow him to run in future elections. Jeyaretnam, 81, told Reuters he paid the sum of S$233,256 ($153,600) to the government to discharge himself from bankruptcy. A government official confirmed on Friday that the payment was received.

“I’m relieved but it’s a very high price that I’ve had to pay,” Jeyaretnam said, adding that he had received financial assistance from his two sons. Bankrupts are not allowed to run in elections in Singapore.

Jeyaretnam was the first opposition politician to win a seat in parliament in 1981, breaking the ruling People’s Action Party’s total dominance of parliament since the country’s independence in 1965.

“I want to continue with what I’ve been doing … fighting for the people who are deprived, who are oppressed.”

However, Jeyaretnam, said he was not sure if he would contest the next general election expected in 2011.

A lawyer who has been sued many times for slander and defamation throughout his political career, Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt in 2001 after he failed to pay S$265,000 ($155,300) worth of defamation damages.

Plaintiffs in the case included then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and then Foreign Affairs Minister S. Jayakumar.

Almost all Singapore’s leading opposition figures have faced legal action at some time by PAP leaders, who say the lawsuits are necessary to safeguard their reputations.

But opposition and critics such as rights group Amnesty International say that the lawsuits are designed by Singapore leaders to cripple the opposition.

The ruling PAP has dominated parliament since independence in 1965. It won 82 of 84 seats in May 2006 elections and has never lost more than four seats in any election.

##########

Amnesty International Canada Statement, 12 May 2007

Source: SDP

J B Jeyaretnam, long regarded as Singapore’s veteran opposition leader and human rights campaigner, is finally freed from bankruptcy. He is therefore eligible to resume his profession as a lawyer, travel abroad without permission, and contest the next election in Singapore, due in 2011.

After making payments of S$233,255 (roughly equivalent to the Canadian dollar) to the Official Assignee, he was given a discharge from bankruptcy.

He had been declared bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay more than S$600,000 in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, and others. He had been found guilty of defamation at a 1997 election rally when he referred publicly to the filing by Workers’ Party candidate Tang Liang Hong of a police report critical of ruling party leaders. He estimates he has paid out close to S$2 million in damages and court costs over the years.

Bankrupts in Singapore are barred from seeking parliamentary seats. J B Jeyaretnam also lost his right to practise as a lawyer. He will now apply for the restoration of his licence to practise law.

J B Jeyaretnam, former judge and member of parliament, now in his eighties, has long been known internationally as a voice for freedom, justice and fundamental human rights in Singapore. As a result, he has faced numerous defamation and other charges, been imprisoned, made bankrupt, and excluded from Parliament and his profession.

Amnesty International (AI) has called on the Singapore government to stop using restrictive laws and defamation suits to muzzle critics and opposition party members such as J B Jeyaretnam.

AI and numerous organizations have over the years sent representatives to Singapore as trial observers and have issued critical reports and statements. Amongst that group are Canadian judge Paul Bentley and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada. AI remains concerned about the continuing use of restrictive laws and civil defamation suits to penalise and silence peaceful critics of the government.

Laws allowing the authorities to impose restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly which violate international standards, combined with a pattern of politically motivated defamation suits, have served to maintain a climate of political intimidation and self-censorship in Singapore. This climate continues to stifle freedom of expression, deters the expression of views alternative to those of the ruling People’s Action Party, and dissuades many Singaporeans from exercising their right to take part in public affairs. Such restrictions belie the government’s repeated claims that it is building an “open society”.

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