After having left the Workers Party, he had just formed the Reform Party to mount a new challenge to PAP dominance. He was the interim secretary general of the party.
He was Singapore’s Mr Opposition, having broken the PAP’s 15-year monopoly in Parliament in the Anson by-election in 1981, winning 52 per cent of the votes to become Singapore’s first opposition MP.
He suffered much personal hardship after being at the losing end of a string of defamation and libel law suits and was forced to pay substantial damages, which eventually left him bankrupt for a number of years.
The first time I met him was some years ago in Johor, where I was speaking at an inter-faith conference and JBJ, an Anglican Christian, was in the audience. Apparently, he was spending a lot of time in Johor back then due to some of his ‘problems’ in Singapore.
During the break, he came up and had some encouraging words for me. And that made a deep impression on me – to actually meet the legend in person.
All through the long, dark years of persecution, he kept the flame burning. For many, his perseverance with what sometimes appeared like a lost cause was an inspiration.
Today, Singapore’s opposition politics is here to stay. In the last general election in Singapore, for instance, huge crowds – usually not shown over the mainstream media – attended the Workers Party’s election rallies.
For his heroic role in keeping the flame of democracy blazing, Singaporeans owe a debt of gratitude to the solitary figure who was often seen in the past at street corners, selling his Workers Party publication, The Hammer, during all those lonely years of struggle. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven!’ Matthew 5:10.
Rest in peace, JBJ. You have fought the good fight; you have completed the race.
Here is a selection of your tributes:
Says blog reader Richy:
I did not meet him personally. But somehow just as you, he too created an impression on me. His speeches, writings and interviews were very impressive. His last interview with The Star made my heart moved for him. I would like to quote those words of his during the interview:
“At times I feel tired and say to myself: “Don’t you think you should give up now?” But that is only momentary. It is followed by the thought that if I have started on a job and as long as I have the health and strength, I will have to go on with it. And there are people who look to you especially when you walk the streets of Singapore. It is just my conviction that when things are wrong, and if there is anything I can do to put them right, then I should do that. I think every citizen should feel like that. It is a citizen’s duty.
“I did not have many properties but I had to sell a bungalow in a very fashionable area in Singapore to pay the judgment obtained by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Having sold that, three years later I bought a small apartment, and then I had to sell that too. All in, I had easily about 12 to 13 suits to pay off. Some people say I was a fool. All I can say is I do not regret it because, to me, life is not all about making money and acquiring wealth. Life is doing something for the people around you.”
JBJ had lived his purpose. He had no material wealth but his human values would be hard to earn even with millions of dollars.
Peace be upon your soul, JBJ!
Adds Antony G:
JBJ was indeed a giant among men. He will be remembered as one of the few truly great Singaporeans. I hope that the powers-that-be who hounded him during his life time will now take a minute to stop and think of what JBJ stood for and his contribution in moulding Singapore to what it is today. Without JBJ things would certainly have been different.
I did not have the opportunity to meet this great soul but I have seen him many a time in some Indian Restaurant in Johore Baru all alone over his dosai and sambar.
You have indeed fought the good fight.
Parli-Man pays tribute to JBJ’s fighting spirit:
JBJ will definitely go down in my books as a heroes’ hero. What a man! – who bravely stood up against the system. No matter how many times LKY tried to bring him down, JBJ got back up. He is the true ‘Rocky’ (politically, that is) of our era.
Long live JBJ in our thoughts and in our minds.
May you rest in peace.
JMD says there is a lesson for us all:
Despite all the materialism around him it would have been so easy (for him) to give up, join the crowd, make money and live a luxurious life. What is important is for all (here and in Singapore) to appreciate and understand the why. Why did he continue when it would have been so easy to do otherwise?
There is a lesson in that for all of us, since we (Malaysians and Singaporeans) are cut from the same cloth: The price of democracy and liberty is not cheap. It is innately human to want to be free, to think freely, to act freely and not to be coerced by the State.
RIP JBJ. Gone but not forgotten.
And he was an eloquent speaker, recalls Shyam:
What a lion of a man! It’s a pity that the Singapore of today will not produce anymore like him. It stifles dissent. But where will your creativity come from if you only want to be surrounded by yes men?
I used to enjoy watching Singapore’s parliamentary sessions when JBJ was in Parliament. What a great speaker. The whole bunch of MPs were no match for him. It needed LKY to attend Parliament often to fend off the attacks from JBJ.
To JBJ’s family, he was indeed a man who was greatly respected on both sides of the causeway!
What a great loss for Singapore and the region. Pay your tribute in the comments below.