'IF IT'S INDULGENT, IT'S IN OUR CITY'
Last April, me and Pang had just stepped out of
the City Hall MRT station in Singapore when I noticed somebody very
familiar. I had flashbacks of having seen this person on TV before.
Those sideburns curiously reminded me of the grainy TV reception
we had in Malacca of SBC (now TCS) Channel 5 during the 80s. It
took awhile for me to register that I had just walked past Joshua
Benjamin Jeyaretnam, the iconic (ex-)opposition leader in Singaporean
For schoolkids in the 1980s like me, our rudimentary
grasp of domestic politics then amounted to merely recognising the
monochromatic divide between incumbent and opposition, not along
partylines as in BN vs DAP or PAS but rather between the dominant
figures of the times: in Malaysia, it was DrM vs Lim Kit Siang.
In Singapore, it was quite simply Lee Kuan Yew vs J.B. Jeyaretnam.
Today J.B. Jeyaretnam has been reduced
to peddling his books in front of MRT stations. His most recent
book, The Hatchet Man of Singapore, details the court proceedings
through which he accuses Lee Kuan Yew of orchestrating to destroy
him politically and economically (this quote
may have contributed to the title). We had a brief chat; no retailer
would stock his books so he would pop up at different MRT stations
every day to sell them by hand; I bought a copy and got him to autograph
it; he then permitted me to photograph him. It didn't seem a big
deal for passers-by. Me and Pang casually wondered if there were
any SB types around.
Photos taken, a handshake, and then
we resumed our way to the screenings for the Singapore
International Film Festival (SIFF), mildly excited by the chance
In 2001, three (Singaporean) university lecturers
filmed a documentary on J.B. Jeyaretnam, tracing his biography,
his involvement in the political arena, and his views on its current
state The video was 17 minutes in length, and was scheduled to be
screened at SIFF. Police quickly warned the lecturers that the film
violated the Films Act, while the government justified the action
as protecting politics from sensationalism, innuendo, and inaccuracy.
The lecturers submitted written apologies for making the film and
withdrew it from the Festival. It is rumored that the video tapes
were confiscated. This perhaps explains why a Singaporean told Malaysian
filmmaker Amir Muhammad at the Q &
A for The Big Durian
screening at SIFF 2003 that: “You’ve got a lot of a balls. Coming
from where I am, I don’t think this film would’ve been screened
In an editorial for cult Singaporean pop culture
mag Big O,
SIFF festival director Philip Cheah said that Singaporeans did have
the freedom of speech. “We just don’t have freedom after