Excerpts from ‘The Hatchet Man of Singapore’

April 14, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Mr JB Jeyaretnam has just published his second book, ‘The Hatchet Man of Singapore.’ Below is an excerpt from the book. The title is taken from Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s self-portrayal:

“As Prime Minister, I reserved executive powers in the Internal Security Act and Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, both inherited from British Times, which I did not repeal in order to be able to act against subservisives or criminals like drug traffickers against whom there is insufficient evidence for a court of law without having recourse to the courts. In other words, I was my own carrier of a hatchet. I needed no hatchet man. All those who have dealt with me know that I have never flinched from going into a dark street on a dark night and it happens to be a cul de sac. No outlet – either the gangster or I will come out alive.” – Straits Times, 3 November 1995

I was first elected into Parliament on the 31st October 1981, my sixth attempt and that triggered off Lee (Kuan Yew)’s determination to squash me or, in his own words “to destroy me”.

Lee wasted no time into translating his fury into action.

One or two days after I was elected, I wrote to the People’s Association under whom the Residents Committee immediately came for a copy of the Regulations. I received a reply quite soon to say that the Regulations were not available for the public or some words to that effect. I had to write again to remind the People’s Association that I was not just a member of the public but I was the Member of Parliament for Anson.

Eventually, I got the Regulations and going through them, I discovered immediately that the Regulations had been changed. It was no longer the case that the MP should be the adviser to the Residents Committee but someone appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office. I do not know whether I expected to be appointed but I was never appointed. Even when I met the Chairman of a zone Residents Committee and asked whether I could see him, he said he would let me know. I never heard from him.

I was isolated from all the grassroots bodies that had been set up by the PAP. I was not even allowed to use any room in the community centre then known as Anson Community Centre. I only discovered that sometime later when I asked for a room in which I could provide tuition in English for poor students in the constituency, I was told very abruptly that no room was available for me.

The PAP appointed a “caretaker MP” who assumed all the duties that a PAP MP before me had assumed. I was never invited to any constituency function or celebration organised by the People’s Association and the guest of honour was the caretaker MP or some minister in the government or PAP MP from other constituencies.

I set up my own Residents Committee for the constituency to look after their interests. This came to the notice of the authorities and I soon received a letter from the Registrar of Societies to tell me that such a committee was illegal unless it was registered under the Societies Act. I applied for registration but never got it.

Apart from his outburst at the lunch with the then President, Lee also publicly declared, after my election, that opposition did not make for good government. In his view it was all theatrics and he did not see why Singapore needed any opposition as Parliament had got on very well without an opposition. All this from a man who before 1981 was lamenting on the lack of opposition in Parliament in Singapore.

After reading Lee’s statement, I wrote to him asking whether he would agree to an open debate on the place of opposition in a democracy. I did not hear from him but from the Assistant Secretary-General of the Party (it may have been Goh Chok Tong then) devoting half the reply to ask why my signature had been so big and in the latter half spurning my invitation to debate.

After I had taken my seat in Parliament, a suit, which the Workers’ Party (of which I was the Secretary-General until the 27th May 2001) had brought in 1972 against a PAP Member of Parliament for slander, was resuscitated to recover costs which had been awarded against the Party, although more than six years had elapsed after the judgment. Following the resuscitation of the 1972 case, the then Chairman of the Workers’ Party and I were charged in court with offences under the Penal Code.

In Parliament Lee declared, more than once, that I had to be politically destroyed because I oppose the system. On a number of occasions, he was also very offensive to me, calling me a mangy dog, skunk and street hustler. The Speaker did not pull him up when he used these offensive terms on me when in the U.K. Parliament, the Speaker would have pulled up the member even if he happens to be the Prime Minister.

I was also referred (I think about six times) to the Committee of Privileges on charges that I had, when speaking in Parliament, gone beyond the freedom that was allowed in Parliament – abuse of privileges.

In the 1984 elections I was re-elected to Parliament from Anson with an increased majority. The PAP candidate against me was reported to have been personally chosen by Lee – a blue-eyed boy of his.

Lee held a press conference after the elections, after all the votes had been counted. He was reported to be very visibly upset and spoke of changing the one-man-one-vote system to correct what he called the aberration of the voter in electing members to Parliament.

Lee, with his fear of a drop in the PAP votes, began introducing amendments to the Constitution to create new categories of Members in Parliament – Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMPs) in Parliament.

Lee of all persons knew that to provide for an opposition in Parliament, the government had be provide a level playing field for the elections to Parliament. Foremost amongst the measures that had to be taken was the entrustment of the conduct of elections to a body outside the governemnt. Lee, however, was not prepared to do this.