Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has said in his recently released biography that he considers long-time opposition politicians Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang but that he would not speak to Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party.
Written by author Peh Shing Huei, the authorised biography entitled Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story covers Goh’s life until the point he becomes the nation’s second Prime Minister in 1990. A second part is expected to cover the rest of Goh’s life and career after he succeeded founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to become head of Government.
Besides writing the foreword and the afterword for the biography, ESM Goh also answers certain questions the author poses in the biography. Peh Shing Huei, a former Straits Times journalist, asks the ruling party leader extensively about his opposition rivals and Goh answers candidly.
When asked about whether he would be friendly with veteran opposition figures Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang, ESM Goh revealed that he regards the opposition party leaders well.
Chiam See Tong, the leader of the Singapore People’s Party, served as elected Member of Parliament for 27 years, holding down Potong Pasir SMC from 1984 to 2011. Chiam’s record for longest-serving opposition MP will be beaten by Workers’ Party leader Low Thia Khiang next year. As of this year, Low has served as elected parliamentarian for 27 years – representing Hougang SMC from 1991 to 2011 and Aljunied GRC from 2011 to present.
ESM Goh went so far as to call Chiam a “gentleman politician” when he was asked about his equation with Chiam and Low. He said:
“I regard Chiam as a friend…I have seen him at dinners outside. He would come to me and I would go and talk to his wife and so on. If I see the wife, I would ask her how Chiam is. He was a gentleman politician. He had his own purpose in politics, which is to create a two-party Parliament. There is nothing wrong with that. We did not like it, but we said, you try, so he tried.”
Revealing that he regards Low the same way, ESM Goh went on to speak about his party’s approach to the opposition:
“It is the same thing with Low. In fact, with most of the people, it is the same thing. We always watch. What is the purpose, their aspirations, their goals and would they bring Singapore down? Or would they be just difficult opponents for us? Then we got to be better than them.
“So, if they are honest and honourable and want to do good for Singapore even though it is in a different way, well, we can have a debate on that. But if your views are totally wrong in our view, like promising a welfare state and using the reserves, then we would fight you. We would fight you tooth and nail on your wrong-headed and populist approach.”
When Peh Shing Huei asked ESM Goh whom would be someone he would not speak to, the Marine Parade GRC MP answered simply, “Chee Soon Juan.”
Chee Soon Juan joined the Singapore Democratic Party in 1991 before he became the party’s secretary-general two years later, in 1993, after SDP founder Chiam See Tong left the party supposedly due to disagreements with the party leaders. Chiam went on to start the SPP, after leaving the SDP.
In 2001, ESM Goh – who was then Prime Minister – sued Chee for defamation, along with Lee Kuan Yew, over remarks Chee had made during that year’s election campaign about an alleged loan to Indonesian President Suharto.
Chee lost the lawsuits and was ordered to pay damages of S$300,000 to Goh and S$200,000 to Lee. On 10 February 2006, Chee was declared bankrupt by the High Court after failing to pay the damages owed to Goh and Lee. As an undischarged bankrupt, Chee became ineligible to stand in general elections and was required to seek the Official Assignee’s permission before making any trips abroad.
On 23 November 2012, Chee was formally discharged from bankruptcy in court. This allowed him to travel freely outside of Singapore, as well as stand in future General Elections. Chee stood as a candidate under the SDP ticket in the 2015 General Election and the 2016 Bukit Batok by-election.