11 May 2006

Devan Nair on Jeyaretnam

In this testimony, recorded in 1999, former President and PAP founding member C.V. Devan Nair pays tribute to J. B. Jeyaretnam. More tellingly, he gives us an insight into how Lee Kuan Yew devised the complex gerrymandering schemes which dominate the present-day political landscape in Singapore - super-sized GRCs and the redrawing of electoral boundaries, not to mention the frequent abuse of the legal process in order to silence critics. It is an open secret by now that the WP managed to garner a majority in the Serangoon Gardens precinct of Aljunied GRC - the ward held by Lim Hwee Hua, previously of Marine Parade GRC. It was said that she had been added to the Aljunied slate to counter the feminine appeal of Sylvia Lim. Now that this tactic has obviously failed, will Serangoon Gardens be carved out of Aljunied GRC in favour of a more pro-PAP precinct at the next polls?


A SERIOUS threat of closure faces the Workers' Party led by Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam because of failure to pay the forbidding damages awarded against the Party by a court in Singapore. One hopes against hope that this might be avoided at the last minute. It is a slim hope. The world has come to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the political tactics used by the governing PAP against opposition politicians have for some time come to include suing their pants off, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their seats in parliament as a result. Now the same device is resorted to against opposition political parties themselves, as registered institutions. The onus of proof is on the government of Singapore - not on global public opinion.

Nothing that smacks of opposition seems safe in Singapore any longer. Singaporeans must sooner or later come to realise the harsh truth that nobody in Singapore is truly saved unless ALL are SEEN to be saved. The post of no return has long passed for Singaporeans, and one fears they will perforce learn this lesson the hard way. In the ultimate analysis, this is probably best. The more painful the price paid to learn basic human lessons, the more firmly might they become embedded in the national fibre. A free Singapore will arise and justify the sacrifices and efforts of undaunted Singaporeans, now including the courageous Chee Soon Juan, who had immolated themselves on the altar of freedom. Phoenix-like, their dreams will rise once again from their ashes. Were this process not true, the world would have come to an end long ago.

It is just as well that I release this requiem now. If not timely yet, it will be soon enough. Here goes, for good or ill to myself:

Some months after I was kicked upstairs to the presidency of the republic of Singapore in October 1981, there was a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Anson, which I had held prior to my ill-fated elevation. I had won that seat with a comfortable majority of some 80 percent of the votes cast. The PAP's candidate in the by-election was a relative unknown, while the Workers Party put up J.B Jeyaretnam. To the consternation of the PAP, Jeyaretnam won.

The day after the by-election verdict was declared, I had lunch with the Prime Minister. I was amazed at how he fretted and fumed like a caged fury. As I saw it, Jeyaretnam constituted no threat at all to the PAP whether in parliament or outside it. For one thing, despite Jeyas courage, he displayed a woeful lack of economics. He clearly never knew at any point of time how Singapore clicked economically. And it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that in five years of free performance in 'parliament against the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lim Kim San et al, he would stand exposed in public for his abysmal ignorance of economics.

In truth, if I had to cope with J.B Jeyaretnam as a hostile delegate at regular National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) Delegates Conferences, I would have given him all the rope and more he wanted to hang himself with. And after free and open arguments over three days of conferencing, I would have beaten him hands down at the ballot box. I knew this, as did the workers. For they knew that in the colonial days, Jeyaretnam had never stood on a picket line. I had, not once but several times, not only stood on picket lines, but also bedded down for the night on the gravel with the workers whom I led.

I told all this to Kuan Yew. Nothing I said sank in. He fretted about a potential critical percentage drop in PAP votes across all the constituencies that could eventually bring the PAP government down, and he wouldn't stand for it. Only later did I realise that this was the moment that started his formidable brain box ticking away furiously at the fecund gerrymandering schemes he was to introduce later to ensure that all opposition parties would be put in a Gordion bind that would make it impossible for them to ever achieve control of parliament, unless an Alexander came along. Such a possibility appears impossible now, unless it takes the awesome shape of shattering geo-political circumstances already building up around Singapore.

Immediately, however, Kuan Yew's attention was concentrated on how he would deal with J.B Jeyaretnam in parliament. I was quite alarmed at some of the things he told me at that lunch. "Look," he said, "Jeyaretnam cant win the infighting. I'll tell you why. WE are in charge. Every government ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time." And I will never forget his last words. "I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy."

Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy. And it is to Lee Kuan Yew's eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee. Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that Jeya more than deserves the crown of the martyr for his indomitable courage and dignity in the face of the vilest persecution.

Even greater human spirits than Jeyaretnam had refused to bend their knees to Lee Kuan Yew. It is my considered view that the greatest human being living in Singapore today is one who declined to surrender to the intimidation of prolonged incarceration and restrictions imposed on him without trial for a total period which exceeds that suffered by Nelson Mandela. And here was the mark of true greatness. He emerged from the experience like a god unembittered. His name is Chia Thye Poh. And it is Lee Kuan Yew who emerged from the episode as the knave and fool of his own mindless vindictiveness, while the real conqueror smiles benignly - unnoted, of course, by the local media. For only sound waves from the Istana Annexe are picked up and regurgitated by His Master¹s Voice.

There is no political justification for obliging the Workers' Party to close down. And not a shred of moral justification. What lies behind the move is among the most brazen vindictiveness ever shown in the political life of Singapore. It merely adds one more nail in the coffin of the PAP's reputation when the true history of the party will be exposed to the world, as it surely will be one day in the coming decades of the third millennium. As mankind accelerates to the abyss, the shining memories of the past will certainly not include Lee Kuan Yew and the department store dummies he boasts today as his acolytes. He clearly does not possess the foresight to avoid such a fate.

I gladly salute J.B. Jeyaretnam and the Worker's Party at this highly deserved requiem, even if I never once had shared their platform.

C. V. Devan Nair.
Former President
Republic of Singapore.
March 26, 1999


Anonymous said...

Can this letter be verified to be true? If it is a true letter, then how telling of the chronology of the fallen opposition in Singaporean history!

Sadly, these information are soooo buried, people like Chia Thye Poh and JBJ will never gain international support like Au Sang Syu Kii (is that how you spell her name?)

Someone needs to post this to an international news magazine like Time or Newsweek!

Anonymous said...

This letter is officially unrealiable. LKY agreed to drop his defamation lawsuit against Devan Nair after Devan Nair's family convinced LKY that Devan had gone mad at the time of this letter. Dementia!

Anonymous said...

need to learn to let go

Anonymous said...

does it sound like dementia to you?
it clearly is well-written, and doesn't seem like the work of a mad man.

Anonymous said...

I will take this with a pinch of salt if I were you. I can't see how one can adamantly choose not to take our local media at face value and yet believe every single this letter says.

That our media is ranked 140th in the world in terms of openness is known. That the reliability of this letter, is unknown. Be more discerning.

- Impassioned Singaporean

Matilah_Singapura said...

"The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who loves his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair." — H.L. Mencken

You don't "turn the other cheek" when you are dealing with a bully.

You smash him, until he goes down, then you stomp on his head or wind pipe.

Anonymous said...

Inetersting letter, someone needs to send this to international press, but must be verified, otherwise, the same old thing. Their press will be sued. May be the source himself can do it anonymously. Please do it immediately, when it is hot.

Anonymous said...

Hi All

Dun you think that to admit that one is crazy and escape from probable persecution is better than getting into jail or being bankrupt? I can't be sure if the letter is written by Devan Nair, but what I can be sure is that the contents of the letter are true. When Chia Thye Poh was convicted without trial and sent to be locked up in Sentosa for 20 over years, this is well know among our 50 years old and 60 years old and 70 years old singaporean. I heard this from many fellow singaporeans about this great injustice done, all thanks to the Internal Security Department whereby the govt can lock up anyone without trial, in which the PxP doesnt wanna abolish (this is a more than 100 year old British system which the Britains themselves have abolished long ago cos it is not relevant to current society). Also the vindictiveness of LKY is well known thru out his reign. So I would say much of the contents in the letter are true. It is good that such information can be passed around to make up for the bias local media. Singaporenas grow up in a boxed up environment since young, from school, we become boring and dull people not too capable of critical thinking and integrating ideas. Since kindergarten the brain washing mechanism took place for most of us broned after 1965, cos when people ask u which kindergarten u went to, you will reply, PxP... a marketing strategy, to help marry the party PxP and the govt/Singapore together n to instill into the young minds that PxP stands for every aspects of our lives in Singapore. How many will critically think that PxP is just a political party, not equal to govt, etc. So it is time to exercise our brain to think critically.

Anonymous said...

no doubt LKY was upset by the anson result, and JY's parliamentary debating style did not help; JY did get into dire financial straits because of lawsuits; however, the words recalled by Devan Nair may not be the actual ones used, and the sentiments expressed may not have been so strong

Anonymous said...

true or not let's read for information.

what's true is the vainglory and powerhungry tactics exhibited over and over again by this man who does not knwo how to let go. Fact- he has said even if six feet under, he will rise from the grave if things dont go the way he expects for singapore.

Fact- he has said it was a mistake to educate women in the mid 80s.

Fact- stop at 2 so the less edcuated and the anaemic citizens will not lead the country.

facts such as these were reported by the media. the public have eyes and a brain to jdge. just that some refuse to see which is pathetic.