With a strong political pedigree as the eldest son of the late opposition figurehead, JB Jeyaretnam, one would expect Kenneth Jeyaretnam to be voted into parliament by now. Why hasn’t it happen?
From the initial excitement when Kenneth first stepped up to takeover the Reform Party to the series of missteps he had made since GE2011, people’s perception of Kenneth changed from a rising star to some kind of joker politician.
I wrote a humanising piece about the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s Dr Chee Soon Juan and thePeople’s Action Party (PAP)’s Chan Chun Sing earlier. Here’s the third in the series. Don’t judge a person too quickly.
Kenneth is not an engaging public speaker, but if you follow his questionings of the PAP government’s economic policies on his blog, he would make a good MP in parliament to ask all the hard stuff. After all, he is a highly educated, experienced economist with a double first class honours from Cambridge to match Lee Hsien Loong.
In Singapore, Kenneth attended St Andrew’s School, followed by the United World College of South East Asia. He attended Charterhouse School in England from 1975-77. From 1978-80 he returned to Singapore to serve his National Service. From 1980-83, he attended Queens’ College, the University of Cambridge, where he read economics and graduated with Double First Class Honours. Kenneth is also an alumnus of the Amsterdam Institute of Finance.
Credentials wise, he is rock solid.
Kenneth’s entrance into Singapore politics started with the passing of the late JB Jeyaretnam in 2008. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent a cryptic condolence letter to his two sons, Kenneth and Philip Jeyaretnam. Thereafter, the elder son went on to shoulder his father’s unfinished work in the fight to give Singaporeans an alternative voice in parliament.
Do you remember names like Nicole Seah, Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, Tony Tan and Hazel Poa? Do you know all of them first entered politics by joining the Reform Party when Kenneth stepped up?
It was the catalyst for all the political awakening that followed, leading up to the watershed GE2011.
In fact, Kenneth was a sought-after star catch then. Both the Workers’ Party (WP) and Chiam See Tong’s Singapore People’s Party (SPP) courted Kenneth to join them in contesting GE2011. If he did, he would probably be in parliament by now.
Yes, there were pitfalls. Maybe Kenneth is not a strong leader; many of the strong members in the Reform Party walked out to join the National Solidarity Party (NSP) and other political parties.
The Reform Party still managed to muster enough resources to contest in 6-members Ang Mo Kio GRC and 5-members West Coast GRC in GE2011. Not bad for a new political party. The Ang Mo Kio team was a motley crue, assembled last minute, but credits to Kenneth for at least putting up a fight there versus a walkover.
The party lost in both GRCs, polling 33.34% of valid votes in West Coast and 30.67% in Ang Mo Kio. For GE2015, the Reform Party is back to contest in the two GRCs plus Radin Mas SMC.
Kenneth tends to take things too seriously. We all know the phrase “don’t feed the trolls”. Not Kenneth Jeyaretnam. He was baited into a silly quarrel with Singapore’s top online troll, SMRT Ltd (Feedback), getting ridiculed as “jeyababy” among other names.
It stemmed from Kenneth making police reports over alleged threats made to his family members after he entered politics. Other opposition politicians like Chiam See Tong had such encounters too, but chose to laugh it off or kept it out of the public’s eyes.
Kenneth is also always quick to speak for those who are the most marginalised, like Roy Ngerng and Amos Yee. It is almost political suicide for any politicians to get themselves associated with these guys. Nonetheless, we do need someone on the far-left of the political spectrum who dare speak when others keep quiet. Imagine one day if you get wrongly arrested under the ISA; you can count on someone like Kenneth to speak for you. Probaby not WP nor the PAP.
In the eyes of many Singaporeans, these are stupid actions, but it also tells you Kenneth sticks to his values on democracy and freedom of expression, just like his late father. Even if it means losing votes.
The dumbest thing he did was to contest the by-election in Punggol East SMC in 2013. Kenneth obtained only 1.2% of the valid votes in a rare 4-cornered fight. The victory went to Lee Li Lian of the WP. This greatly damaged the reputation of the Reform Party as a credible opposition party which can pull votes.
Some stuff he did right – his scrutiny on the minute details of policies, particularly in the field of economics. His favourite targets include the CPF, the GIC and Temasek. Kenneth was the one who flagged the technicality involving a US$4 billion IMF loan commitment from our government, challenging it all the way to court. He is a policy hack.
One of his biggest folly is probably to allow all sorts of people to contest under the Reform Party. Voters view candidates as a team. If your team mates keep scoring own goals and make weird faux pas, you get dragged in the mud.
Maybe he should have went for a SMC first before gunning for a GRC. After all, his father won his first election in the single seat of Anson which has now disappeared from the electoral map.
Kenneth Jeyaretnam may not be the most engaging of speakers, but go listen to him, read his blog and find out more about him before writing him and the Reform Party off as a political lightweight.