Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A gracious Singaporean? (JBJ dies.)

Yesterday was a sad day for me. The leading opposition politician in Singapore Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 82. I didn't think I would, but I did, shed tears.

My only significant encounter with JBJ was at Gleneagles Hospital when his late wife and my late mother were both patients there at the same time. He looked very tired but still acknowledged us when we realized who he was and kind of waved. (His wife died in 1980.)

I was an impressionable and impoverished undergraduate in 1981 when he won the by-election at Anson. That was indeed a politicial milestone.

There are several obituaries here:

Singapore opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam dies fighting (AFP)

Singapore opposition head Jeyaretnam dies (IHT)

Death of Singaporean maverick (FT)

And then there is the 'letter of condolence' written by the prime minister of Singapore to his grieving sons:

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CONDOLENCE LETTER FROM PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG ON DEMISE OF JB JEYARETNAM

30 September 2008

Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam
Mr Philip Jeyaretnam

Dear Kenneth and Philip Jeyaretnam

I was sad to learn that your father, Mr Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, has passed away.

Mr JB Jeyaretnam was a Member of Parliament for Anson constituency from 1981 till 1986, and a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from 1997 till 2001. He used to engage in heated debates in the House. Perhaps it was because he and the PAP never saw eye to eye on any major political issue and he sought by all means to demolish the PAP and our system of government. Unfortunately, this helped neither to build up a constructive opposition nor our Parliamentary tradition. Nevertheless, one had to respect Mr JB Jeyaretnam's dogged tenacity to be active in politics at his age.

However, our differences were not personal. In 1993, one of you (Kenneth) wrote to Mr Goh Chok Tong, who was then Prime Minister, to say that you found employers in Singapore reluctant to offer you a job, and your only explanation was that the employers felt the authorities would not welcome your employment because of your name. Mr Goh replied with a letter which could be shown to prospective employers, to say that the government did not hold anything against you, and that employers should evaluate you fairly on your own merits, like any other candidate, because Singapore needed every talented person that it could find. Mr Goh had previously made the same point to your brother Philip, whom he had invited to lunch. I am therefore happy that both of you have established yourselves in Singapore.

Please accept my deepest condolences.

Yours sincerely

Lee Hsien Loong

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Us Singaporeans have often lamented this lack of graciousness amongst our compatriots. Well, if our leader cannot be gracious even in death and bereavement, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

To be fair to PM Lee, he does not get much practice in writing such letters to opposition politicians.

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

In death, all animosity ends- a Chinese Saying in Hanyu Pinyin reads 'yuan sheng bu yuan si'.

It means that the living should not blame the dead anymore for whatever a deceased had done. Traditional Chinese should be familiar with it.

patriot

Anonymous said...

No doubt the PM does not have practice in writing such letters, but he does have a group of capable people to advise him.....

Anonymous said...

One leads a cushioned life and needs millions to lead the people
The other endured prisonment and gave away millions for the people.
Let people be the judge of whom deserves your tears.

Anonymous said...

LHL nor LKY has any inkling of being a Chinese. Kuan Yew rooted out the Chinese in one of his classic act to close down Nanyang University. Kuan Yew should teach his family how to be gracious not tell the world Singaporeans need to learn to be more gracious?

Anyway, what relevance is there to what JBJ sons have achieved in Singapore - and definately not the credit of LHL or Kuan Yew or the PAP. Who would believe that they would have been left alone, unscathed if they carried on JBJ's torch.

What a disgrace to Singaporeans and a leader of Singapore, being unable to even pen a gracious condelence letter.

LSP said...

kojakbt: I am copying your comment here, but have taken out the link you referred to:

The opposition has lost a determined fighter. My condolence and sympathy…. However, I’m sure JBJ in heaven would not want us to stop fighting the PAP. Let’s continue JBJ’s fight to stop the dominance of 1-party politics in Singapore. Let’s strive to bring true democracy to Singapore by encouraging Singaporeans to vote for pluralism in our politics. Feel free to join me to continue the fight at .... [link edited out]

5:29 PM

6th October 2008