His political career had its ups and downs; Anson win was a high point
By Kor Kian Beng
MR J.B. Jeyaretnam suffered from a heart problem for some time but refused to have surgery.
At 1.30am yesterday, the veteran opposition leader and lawyer had difficulty breathing while at the home of his older son Kenneth in Evelyn Road in Newton.
Kenneth said he was asleep when his father called for him and asked that he call for an ambulance.
When it arrived 10 minutes later, his father had collapsed, Kenneth, 49, a hedge fund manager, told reporters.
He was taken to the nearby Tan Tock Seng Hospital where, despite 'strenuous efforts' by doctors, he died from heart failure at 2.57am.
Mr Jeyaretnam was 82.
With his death, the fragmented Singapore opposition has lost a key figure who, in 1981, had exploded the myth that the People's Action Party (PAP) was impossible to defeat, by winning the now-defunct Anson ward.
His death was also a shock to many in the legal field and political scene - two arenas he returned to recently.
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in response to media questions, said he was 'taken aback' by the news.
'I did not expect it as I had recently read of his formation of a new political party and his interest in contesting in the next General Election.'
In an outpouring of condolences, PAP leaders and former MPs, opposition party chiefs, members and supporters as well as civil society activists remember JBJ, as he is popularly known, for his dogged tenacity, unrelenting perseverance and stubborn stance on freedom of speech and human rights.
Discharged as a bankrupt last year, he set up the Reform Party this year.
But it was as leader of the Workers' Party (WP) that he built his reputation, attacking the PAP Government continuously for what he believed were its unjust and undemocratic ways and policies.
A former district judge who left for private practice in 1963, Mr Jeyaretnam entered politics in 1971 as secretary-general of the then-dormant WP. He lost five elections before his history-making victory in Anson 10 years later.
In 1986, he lost the seat after being convicted of making a false declaration of WP accounts. His $5,000 fine barred him from Parliament for five years.
More court cases followed, with PAP leaders accusing him of defamation.
In 1997, he became a Non-Constituency MP, after his WP team in the former Cheng San GRC topped the losers' list with the highest proportion of votes.
But four years later, he had to leave Parliament after he became a bankrupt for failing to pay up sums owing in damages from lawsuits.
He was barred from legal practice too.
He also quit the WP in the same year, after a row with secretary-general Low Thia Khiang for the party's lack of support in helping him settle the debt.
Though out in the political wilderness, he was not down.
Often, he would stand outside MRT stations and shopping malls, selling his books on Singapore politics to raise money to settle his debts.
Yesterday, his younger son, Philip, 44, a Senior Counsel and former Law Society president, said his father refused to have an operation for a constricted aortic valve. 'He felt when your time's up, time's up. He was very much at peace with himself and with what he had done with his life.'
The family 'had been preparing in a way although the timing was quite sudden', he said, adding that he took his father to Muar last year to visit his old school.
But long-time friend Ng Teck Siong, 68, said there were warning signs the day before when Mr Jeyaretnam was at the High Court for two cases.
'I was with him the whole day and he wasn't feeling well.'
A stream of people went to JBJ's wake at Mount Vernon yesterday evening. Writing in the condolence book, many called him a hero.
A Singapore Law Society spokesman said in a statement yesterday: 'Known for his tenacity and perseverance both in and outside of court, he will be greatly missed by many.'
Mr Jeyaretnam, a father of two and grandfather of four, will be cremated on Saturday.