A son of Singapore’s late opposition icon J.B. Jeyaretnam said Friday he had joined his father’s pro-democracy party and may run for parliament in the next general elections.
British-trained economist Kenneth Jeyaretnam, 50, told AFP he had been approached to join other parties but decided going with the Reform Party was the right thing to do.
“This is examining my conscience… I should go with the Reform Party because it was set up by my father,” Jeyaretnam said.
“I want to honour what he stood for, everything that he said, but I will be my own man,” he said.
Jeyaretnam’s father, who died in September last year from a heart attack aged 82, suffered jail stints and libel suits in his lonely battle for greater political freedom in the wealthy city-state.
“My message to Singaporeans out there is don’t be afraid,” said Jeyaretnam.
“I want to show that competition is vital in politics as it is in business, so it’s not to be feared but to be embraced,” he said.
Jeyaretnam, who worked in the financial sector in London after earning a double first-class honours degree from the University of Cambridge and returned to Singapore last year, says he can offer alternative economic policies to those espoused by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
“I want to create an image of economic competency of the opposition, meaning that I can advocate policies for economic prosperity and I can advocate better economic policies than the present government,” he said.
Jeyaretnam joined the Reform Party three weeks ago and said he was ready to go out and meet Singaporeans just like his father, a fiery orator who peddled anti-PAP books in the waning years of his political career.
“There is a lot of work to be done… I have a lot to do and go out to meet people,” said Jeyaretnam.
“My father was always a firm believer that you have to go out and meet with the ordinary people,” he said.
Asked if he was prepared to run for office, he replied: “Absolutely ready.”
The late Jeyaretnam was a bitter foe of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, whose son Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister in 2004 after Goh Chok Tong stepped down. The younger Lee led the PAP to victory in the 2006 general elections.
J.B. Jeyaretnam founded the Reform Party a few months before his sudden death and was hoping to run for office again despite his age. (Jacob: See here and here for videos of the Reform Party’s press conference on Apr 18, ’08 and its inauguration dinner on July 11, ’08)
He was one of the few Singaporeans who spoke out consistently against the PAP, espousing causes such as human rights and greater political freedoms in the city-state, and made history by breaking the PAP’s total grip on parliament in 1981.
His younger son Philip, 45, also educated at Cambridge, is an author and senior lawyer who has served as president of the Law Society of Singapore.
The PAP, which has been in power since 1959, says its tough laws against dissent are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped Singapore progress economically to become among the wealthiest in Asia.
It controls all but two of the 84 seats in parliament.
General elections are not due until 2011 but there is speculation that the PAP will seek a mandate earlier, hoping Singaporeans would support its record of economic progress and stability instead of voting for untested opposition leaders during an economic recession.