His fiercest opponent — Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew — has labelled his style as anything from "gutter politics" to "street fighter" tactics. Opposition veteran J B Jeyaretnam prefers to describe his methods as "confrontational" instead.
But there is one observation about his approach that Mr Jeyaretnam shares with MM Lee: That it is no longer a feature of the Workers' Party.
And, looking at the recent General Election (GE), Mr Jeya-retnam doubts it will make a comeback within the party he used to lead. He said: "I can't see it happening under (secretary-general) Low Thia Khiang. (He) hasn't shown himself … willing or ready to take on the PAP on the most crucial issue of the system of government in this country."
Mr Lee had said last month at the 50th anniversary dinner of the Foreign Correspondents Association that Mr Low is moving in the right direction after having "got rid" of Mr Jeyaretnam and his "Third World" politics. The latter, though, is not making any concessions about his approach.
"I don't believe confrontational politics is wrong, which is what the PAP would seem to imply. They talk about constructive criticism. Of course, to them, constructive criticism is criticism within the parameters they've laid down," he said.
Which is why, he added, Mr Lee was pleased to see the back of someone like him who would challenge the system. But is the veteran Opposition politician calling time on politics now?
"I haven't quite decided. A lot will, of course, depend on my health and if my strength will permit me to continue," said the 80-year-old, who had "great hopes" of getting discharged from his bankruptcy to contest the GE. He admitted that, with the polls over, the urgency to pay his debts from the lawsuits against him had passed. "Yes, I'd like to be discharged, but it's no longer a pressing matter," said Mr Jeyaretnam, who was speaking about the GE at an FCA luncheon last week.
These elections, with more media publicity of the Opposition in the lead-up to the polls than in previous elections, raised expectations that "some real issues would be debated", he said, citing issues about the widening wage gap, unemployment, workers' rights, healthcare, education and the cost of living. But he did not see this happen. If it had and the WP had a real go at the issues, "they might have captured Aljunied".
And Mr Jeyaretnam is not very optimistic about the Opposition's chances in a Group Representation Constituency at the next GE. "The flagship constituency didn't do as well as the flagship constituencies in the previous elections under the WP," he said, referring to the 1988, 1991 and 1997 polls.
In those elections, the WP got 49.11 per cent of the Eunos vote, 47.62 per cent in Eunos again and 45.18 per cent in Cheng San, respectively. In this GE, the WP won 43.91 per cent in Aljunied. Nonetheless, he does think that democratic ideals are on the rise among young Singaporeans.
"Going around, selling my book in Singapore, I've had hundreds of students buying the book," he related. "But, I've also noticed this: Once they leave the universities … either their energies or their enthusiasm are sapped as a result, I suppose, of the seen and unseen pressures of society.
He cited family pressure and the climate of fear as the main counterbalances to the desire for change and greater freedoms. Although more young Singaporeans are joining the Opposition, it is not enough to convince him that the fear factor is ebbing. He has a sterner litmus test — one that is true to his style of politics.
"It's when you have people who are prepared to stand up, march through the streets of Singapore, hold a public rally. Then they can say 'we are no longer afraid'," he told Today.
By his own admission, it is a style that seems very much out of fashion. - /sh
30 May 2006
Veteran politician says current WP should confront more