October 3, 2002
VETERAN Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam got a rare tribute from the city-state's number two leader who praised him for fighting for his beliefs instead of running way from the country, a report said Thursday, Oct 3.
Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cited Jeyaretnam as an example of a Singaporean who stayed and fought for his beliefs despite frequent run-ins with the government and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), the Straits Times said.
The colourful opposition politician, who first broke the PAP's stranglehold of local politics, lost his seat in parliament last year when he was declared bankrupt because of mounting debts resulting from defamation suits brought on by PAP stalwarts.
Lee, the son of Jeyaretnam's nemesis Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was speaking in parliament during a debate about Singaporeans who remain loyal to the nation, or the "stayers", and those who flee abroad because of pressures at home, or the "quitters."
"If you are Singaporean, you should stay on and fight and argue your case and persuade more people to believe you and one day change the policy, not opt out and leave because no policy is set in stone forever," the younger Lee said.
Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong had earlier ruffled some feathers when he called "quitters" Singaporeans who throw in the towel without a fight and give up on their country in his National Day speech in August.
The 77-year-old Jeyaratnam had earlier challenged Goh to a public debate over his remarks, but there was no reply. As a bankrupt, he is disqualified from running for public office.
A British-educated lawyer, Jeyaretnam had frequent skirmishes with the government for more than three decades for championing issues such as the abolition of the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.
Another opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan is currently on trial for holding a rally without a permit on May Day at the Istana presidential complex and for trespassing government grounds.