Good afternoon, Excellencies and Friends.
I cannot recall ever having a proper meeting with the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam. My circumstances as a senior civil servant and corporate man in banks rendered it inconvenient for me to meet prominent members of opposition parties. Such was the state of affairs in our country where it wouldn’t do career men and women any good to be seen with opposition figures. But the general election in May this year has removed this reservation. It is now cool to be seen with the opposition and to show support openly. Even to this day, strangers still walk up to me and ask to pose for photographs which I gladly oblige. I am sure many of you who stood as candidates have similar experiences. Perhaps we should ask for donations in return, not for our own pockets but towards our war chest for the next GE.
Not being able to have a proper meeting with Mr Jeyaretnam, however, did not prevent me from admiring the man. I was in Anson on the night of his by-election victory in 1981. I was then a senior officer in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. So many Singaporeans were there that night to witness a historic occasion, the first breakthrough by the opposition in 18 years. The crowd was huge. I could see and feel the sense of joy and jubilation on the faces of so many Singaporeans who shook each other’s hand as though they were long lost friends. There was a long queue at the public telephone booth where people were frantically calling their family and friends to inform them of the news. There were no mobile phones then. The scene was euphoric. The next morning, the Straits Times headlined the by-election result as “the dawn of a new era”, quoting the victor. It was a fitting tribute to a man who single-handedly and fearlessly energized the opposition and brought it to new heights. Yes it was a new dawn that was to lead to better results for the opposition in the subsequent two to three general elections.
I never failed to attend his rallies where I did not hide my support and admiration for him even though I was a visible senior civil servant who had become a principal private secretary in the second half of the 1980′s. Singaporeans from all walks of life were attracted not only to JBJ ‘s politics but also his dogged determination and never-say-die fighting spirit. He was becoming a national hero. But the man aroused so much fear in his opponents . He suffered much in jail and bankruptcy. Many would have been broken, but not our JBJ. He took it in his stride. He did not allow his suffering to destroy him. He soldiered on till the very last day, never giving up on Singaporeans one bit.
JBJ’s work had been a great inspiration to us in our search for greater freedom and democracy. Today as we expressed satisfaction with the substantial progress that the opposition has made, we must remember the huge sacrifices that JBJ endured to pave the way for us. We owe him an immense debt and the least we can do to show gratitude is to continue the unfinished journey he had embarked upon as fearlessly as he had done. When he died 3 years ago, Singapore lost a fine and brave son. But he had not left us in vain. Today, his spirit lives on among the many men and women who stood up bravely as candidates and supporters in this year’s general and presidential elections. We can be sure that he feels very proud as he looks at us from above. When we finally succeed in our journey which we will, it would be the greatest tribute to the man himself. Let all of us work hard together and that day will come sooner rather than later.
In my speech today, I have focused entirely on JBJ’s role and contribution. This is understandable as today’s event is in memory of the man. But it does not in any way diminish the role and contribution of countless other Singaporeans who gave their time and lives to the nation so selflessly and became role models for us to emulate in our fight for greater freedom. Singaporeans know who they are, some better known than others. They and JBJ are heroes in our hearts. On behalf of my family and all Singaporeans who cherish and admire them, may I take this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ with a big heart. We love you all.