Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam



Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (b. 5 January 1926, Jaffna, Sri Lanka–d. 30 September 2008, Singapore) was the first opposition member of parliament (MP) in post-independence Singapore. He broke the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) monopoly of parliament in 1981 when he won the by-election at Anson. However, he lost his seat in parliament twice, in 1986 and 2001. Better known as J.B. Jeyaretnam or JBJ, he established the Reform Party in 2008 and announced plans to contest the next general election in 2011, but passed away later that year.

Early life
An Anglican Christian of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, Jeyaretnam was born in the village of Chankanai in Jaffna, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), while his parents were on home leave from Malaya.1

He began schooling at a French convent in Muar, Malaya. After graduating from the convent, he entered the Government English School in Muar. When his father was transferred to Johor Bahru to work, he enrolled in the English College there. After the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Jeyaretnam moved to Singapore to study at St Andrew’s School. It was around this time that he became interested in politics.

In 1948, he left for England to study law at the University College, London. There, he met Margaret Cynthia Walker, also a law student, whom he later married. He graduated with a Bachelor of Laws with honours in 1951 and sat for the Bar finals the same year. He was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn in London on 27 November 1951 and returned to Singapore the following year. In 1952, he joined the Singapore Legal Service. Walker remained in England and joined Jeyaretnam in Singapore in 1956. They married in February 1957.

Legal career
Jeyaretnam began his legal career as a magistrate in Singapore in 1952. While in the legal service, Jeyaretnam served in various other posts, including crown counsel, deputy public prosecutor and registrar of the Supreme Court. In 1963, he was appointed the first criminal district judge and first magistrate in the Singapore Legal Service. Later that year, he resigned and entered private practice, eventually setting up his own law firm in 1968.4

He stopped practising law in 2000. He was declared bankrupt the following year, which barred him from practising as a lawyer. However, soon after he was discharged as a bankrupt in May 2007, he obtained a practising certificate and resumed his law practice.5

Political career
Jeyaretnam made his political debut in 1971. That year, he joined the Workers’ Party (WP) and was elected as its secretary-general. After the departure of its founder David Marshall in 1963, the party had been dormant. Jeyaretnam rejuvenated the party and led it to a historic victory in the 1981 Anson by-election.6


Jeyaretnam contested in his first election in 1972. He lost, and it was the first of five consecutive failed attempts to gain entry into parliament. By the late 1970s, however, he had proven himself to be a strong, if not the strongest, opposition candidate. In the 1980 general election, he lost to PAP’s candidate by just 1,046 votes, or six percent, of the valid votes. Finally, in 1981, he won the by-election in Anson with 51.9 percent of the valid votes. With this victory, he became the first opposition candidate to be elected as an MP in the history of independent Singapore. In the 1984 election, he was re-elected in Anson with an increased majority of 56.8 percent of votes.7

The Anson by-election of October 1981 was a landmark poll that ended the PAP’s monopoly of parliament.8 Anson had been a hotly contested constituency since the 1950s, until it was scrapped in 1988.9 In February 1979, C. V. Devan Nair, then secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), contested a by-election in the Anson constituency to fill the vacancy left by the death of PAP's Member of Parliament P. Govindaswamy.10 Nair retained his seat during the 1980 parliamentary general election but had to resign as member of parliament when he was elected as Singapore's third president in October 1981.11 On 31 October 1981, a by-election was held to fill the vacant parliamentary Anson seat.12 The three candidates who contested were PAP's Pang Kim Hin, United People’s Front’s Harbans Singh and J. B. Jeyaretnam of the WP.13 Jeyaretnam garnered 7,012 votes or 51.9 percent of the valid votes cast to become the member of parliament for Anson. It was the first opposition victory in more than 13 years.14 He retained his seat in the 1984 parliamentary general election but was forced to vacate it in 1986 due to a criminal conviction.15

In 1986, he was jailed and fined S$5,000 for making a false declaration in WP’s accounts. As a result, he had to vacate his parliamentary seat and was disqualified from parliament until 1991.16 He stood for elections again only in 1997, this time in the Cheng San group representation constituency.17 He was part of a five-member team fielded by WP. The team lost to PAP, but obtained 45.2 percent of the votes. As this was the highest percentage of votes among all the election losers, the party was asked to nominate a candidate for the post of non-constituency member of parliament (NCMP). Jeyaretnam was chosen to take up the seat.18

Known for his fiery speeches at rallies, which earned him the nickname “The Tiger”, and his scathing attacks on the PAP and its system of government, Jeyaretnam was the subject of several defamation suits. The most high-profile cases were those brought against him by PAP leaders. In the late 1990s, to pay off some of the damages arising from the suits that he had lost, Jeyaretnam was often seen selling his books outside MRT stations and shopping centres.19

In 2001, however, he was declared bankrupt for failing to pay his creditors and consequently lost his NCMP seat. He was also not eligible to take part in an election until he had cleared all his debts. In October that year, he resigned from WP, upset that the party leaders did not help him pay off his debts. Discharged from bankruptcy in 2007, he set up the Reform Party in 2008 and expressed hopes of fielding candidates in the 2011 general election.20 

Death
Jeyaretnam died of heart failure at the age of 82 on 30 September 2008. His death was covered by local and international news agencies, including The New York TimesThe Times and the International Herald Tribune. People from all walks of life, including PAP and opposition politicians, attended his wake. Over 1,000 people were present at the funeral service held at St Andrew’s Cathedral on 4 October 2008.21

Family22
Wife: Margaret Cynthia Walker (m. 1957; d. 1980)
Sons: Kenneth and Philip
Grandchildren: Jared, Tristan, Quentin and Miranda

Timeline23
Jun 1971: Joins WP and is elected as its secretary-general.
Sep 1972: Loses the general election for Farrer Park.
Dec 1976: Loses the general election for Kampong Chai Chee.
May 1977: Loses the Radin Mas by-election.
Feb 1979: Loses the Telok Blangah by-election.
Dec 1980: Loses the general election for Telok Blangah.
Oct 1981: Wins the Anson by-election.
Dec 1984: Wins the general election for Anson.
Dec 1986: Loses Anson seat after being convicted of making a false declaration in WP’s accounts.
Aug 1993: Applies for a certificate of eligibility to run for the post of president but was rejected.
Jan 1997: His WP team loses the general election for Cheng San GRC, but obtains the highest percentage of votes among the opposition losers. Jeyaratnam returns to parliament as an NCMP.
May 2001: Steps down as secretary-general of WP.
Jul 2001: Loses his NCMP seat after being declared bankrupt.
Oct 2001: Resigns from WP.
May 2007: Discharged as a bankrupt and announces plans to form a new political party.
Jun 2008: Reform Party is registered.



Author
Valerie Chew



References
1. Jeyaretnam, J. B. (2003). The hatchet man of Singapore. Singapore: Jeya Publishers, p. iii. (Call no.: RSING 345.59570256 JEY)
2. Jeyaretnam, J. B. (2003). The hatchet man of Singapore. Singapore: Jeya Publishers, p. iii. (Call no.: RSING 345.59570256 JEY)
3. Yeo, C. (n.d.). The memories of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (1926–2008). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
4. Lum, S. (2007, September 20). JBJ gets cert to practise law againThe Straits Times, p. 31. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, K. T. (Ed.).  (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 206. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO). Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam 1926–2008. (2008, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singh, K. (2008, January 26). JBJ back in court action after 8 yearsThe Straits Times, p. 56. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Au Yong, J. (2008, October 1). His integrity and passion praisedThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The Workers’ Party. (2007). The Workers’ Party: 50th anniversary commemorative book, 1957–2007. Singapore: Author, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 324.25957 WOR)
[7. Peh, S. H. (2008, January 11). The last hurrahThe Straits Times, p. 35; Au Yong, J. (2008, October 1). His integrity and passion praisedThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Fong, L., et. al. (1981, November 1). Jeyaretnam takes AnsonThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government of Singapore. (2013, October 8). 1981 parliamentary by-election results. Retrieved November 29, 2013, from Singapore Elections Department website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_by1981.html
9. Mauzy, D. K., & Milne, R. S. (2002). Singapore politics under the People’s Action Party. London: Routledge, p. 149. (Call no.: RSING 320.95957 MAU); Scrapping of 7 wards unavoidable – committee. (1988, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Devan leads the PAP pack as he pulls in 84 pc…. (1979, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Fong, L. (1981, October 13). Devan to be presidentThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Government of Singapore. (2013, October 8). 1981 parliamentary by-election results. Retrieved November 29, 2013, from Singapore Elections Department website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_by1981.html
13. Government of Singapore. (2013, October 8). 1981 parliamentary by-election results. Retrieved November 29, 2013, from Singapore Elections Department website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_past_by1981.html
14. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1986, December 9). Disqualification of member for Anson. (Vol. 48, cols. 833–834). Singapore: Govt. Printers. (Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN)
15. Jeya’s disqualification came into effect on Nov 10. (1986, December 10). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Peh, S. H. (2008, January 11). The last hurrahThe Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. The return of the tiger. (2008, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 75. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Au Yong, J. (2008, June 19). JBJ’s Reform Party registeredThe Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chuang, P. M. (2008, October 1). JBJ, 82, dies of heart failure. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Au Yong, J. (2008, June 19). JBJ’s Reform Party registeredThe Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Kor, K. B. (2008, October 1). JBJ dies from heart failureThe Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Vengadesan, M. (2003, September, 7). Still standing. Star, Malaysia. Retrieved from http://www.singapore-window.org/sw03/030907st.htm
23. Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2006). Who’s who in Singapore 2006. Singapore: Who’s Who Publishing, p. 206. (Call no.: RSING 920.05957 WHO); Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam 1926–2008. (2008, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Ahmad Osman, & Henson, B. (2001, October 24). JBJ resigns from Workers’ Party, 10 more to leaveThe Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Hwang, T. F.,.& Davidson, B. (1978, November 24). ‘Never my intention to impute dishonesty or corrupt motives’The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Jeya loses NCMP seat, Speaker declares. (2001, July 26). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Jeyaretnam says yes to offer of NCMP seat. (1997, January 11). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Jeyaretnam seeks certificate of eligibility to run for president. (1993, August 8). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, p. 266.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])

Kor, K. B. (2008, October 2). Outpouring of love and respect for JBJThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Lee, L. (2007, May 21). JBJ looking to set up new political partyThe Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

PM, 10 others file suits. (1997, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, O. (2000, May 6). High Court declares JBJ a bankruptThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Teng Cheong, Chua can run for president; Jeya rejected. (1993, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved on from NewspaperSG.

WP’s leader Jeya declared NCMP. (1997, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The Workers’ Party. (2007). The Workers’ Party: 50th anniversary commemorative book, 1957–2007. Singapore: Author.
(Call no.: RSING 324.25957 WOR)



The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Lawyers--Singapore--Biography
Law and government
Jeyaretnam, J. B., 1926-2008
Politicians--Singapore--Biography
Politicians
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders