THE grape-wines and gossip mills have been running overtime ever since George Yeo shared on Facebook on Friday that he’s coming home, having finally decided to put family first over career.
The former Singapore Foreign Minister, going on 65, feels it’s ripe time to call it a day as the chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network (KLN) in June in order to “spend time with family and pursue other interests”.
Over seven years, he has been chairman of the Hong Kong company after a distinguished political career spanning 23 years, which ended on a downside note when his six-member team lost the Aljunied GRC in one of the biggest shocks of the 2011 General Elections (GE). They lost to the opposition Workers’ Party, led by the then-Secretary General Low Thia Khiang.
In the Facebook note, Mr Yeo wrote: “I indicated to Mr William Ma (the company’s managing director) and Kerry Group of my wish to retire a year ago after my wife recovered from a serious illness. Reaching 65 this year, I want more time for my family and to pursue other interests.”
His lawyer-wife Jennifer Yeo, 60, was diagnosed with a rare form of nose cancer two years ago. In February 2018, Mr Yeo said she had responded well to her treatment in the United States, adding that a full check-up showed “no trace anymore of her cancer”, though she will have to be “under close surveillance” in the first two years.
News of him throwing the proverbial white career flag sparked heartland speculations over the weekend that Mr Yeo, who joined politics in 1988, when he represented the Aljunied GRC under the-then Kampong Kembangan division, may make a political comeback – either in the upcoming, yet-to-be-decided, GE 2019 or perhaps at a PE (Presidential Elections) in the near future.
Mr Yeo’s former parliament colleague, Maidin Packer, the ex-Senior Parliamentary Secretary and former Berita Harian editor, says: “The results of GE 2011, specifically Aljunied GRC, that caused George Yeo’s departure from Singapore’s politics was a really big loss to our country. Then he moved to pursue a career in Hong Kong. That’s another major loss. I hope his desire to spend more time with his family here, would mean his talent can be put to good use in Singapore, in whatever field he chooses.”
‘VERY POPULAR WITH SINGAPOREANS’
Retired award-winning senior police officer Amarjeet Singh puts it straight-handedly: “All I can say is George Yeo is very popular with Singaporeans and a very well respected person. If gets into politics it will be great for Singapore.”
Mr Yeo, with a BG (Brigadier-General) rank while in the Republic of Singapore Air Force(RSAF), became a minister in 1991 and served in various ministries, including the then Ministry of Information and the Arts (1991-1999), Ministry of Health (1994-1997), Ministry of Trade and Industry (1999-2004) and Foreign Affairs (2004-2011).
Neither Mr Yeo or his wife of 35 years, Jennifer Yeo, were available for comment. But those close to the Yeo family say that the couple hardly discussed future political options since he formally made the Facebook announcement of an end to an overseas business career.
Tongues first started wagging when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong announced in February that “George Yeo is back with the Aljunied Team…he is fighting fit”. It turned out to be a Lunar New Year teaser which crackled the hearts of many netizens.
Veteran lawyer J. Jeyagopi, who serves as a senior branch activist at Nee Soon East, says: “He was one of our finest Foreign Ministers. He was an astute and forthright Minister and played a pivotal part in the-then Cabinet. At 64, I don’t think he will re-enter mainstream politics. He, however, can still play a nurturing role to our younger politicians in a wider context with his wisdom and vast experience that I’m certain he will share and make known in his private capacity.”
Opposition politician Goh Meng Seng thinks that a “real fighter will pick himself up” and points to Mr Yeo returning to politics but “not joining Tan Cheng Bock’s party but most probably the PAP”.
“If he really returns to the PAP, he will definitely contest in Aljunied GRC again. A real fighter will pick himself up from where he fell,” says Mr Goh, the Secretary-General of the People’s Power Party (PPP). “He didn’t announce his ‘retirement’ but just stepping down and resignation from his directorship. He has put a hint that this is not a retirement and he will be ‘pursuing other interests’.”
Mr Yeo’s former schoolmates at St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), then along Bras Basah Road until the mid-1970s, including this writer, believes he has a lot to offer to Singapore.
Rev Brother Michael Broughton, a school prefect-mate with Mr Yeo, who went on to be the former Deputy Principal at SJI at Malcolm Road and now Executive Director for Lasallian Leadership Formation & Accompaniment at the De La Salle Medical & Health Sciences Institute in Cavite, Philippines, says matter-of-factly: “George is a President’s Scholar and a SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) Scholar, so he may consider a political comeback if the political scene is right and if he feels he can make a positive contribution.”
Another Josephian, Michael Ang,, took a cautious approach: “I don’t think a political comeback is on his mind although I would not rule it out. As he said, he wants to focus on his family especially after his wife recovered from cancer.”
SJI hockey and football stalwart Kalwant Singh, now residing in Los Angeles, USA, describes Mr Yeo as “one of the nicest chaps I have ever met”. He says: “In politics you meet folks who are hell bent on their agenda. George never seemed like one of those.
WHY NOT A COMEBACK?
“He came across as just as an ordinary guy. I was very sad when he lost the 2011 GE. Singapore need s a person like him. He’s a very good leader. With time now in his hands, I don’t see why he wouldn’t make a comeback.”
Prominent lawyer Alfred Dodwell is of the view that Mr Yeo, who once represented the Eurasian community in the Cabinet at their request, would make an “excellent future President”.
The Managing Director of Dodwell & Co LLC says: “My first thought was he might run for the presidency and he would have my vote as he would be an excellent choice as he has the stature, experience, personality and gravitas to carry that role with the dignity and respect it commands.
“We have been fortunate to have many good Presidents in the short history of Singapore and so George Yeo would be an excellent choice after our current president’s term ends.”
But he argues that for Mr Yeo’s “intellect and his stature, if there is a role yet for him in the government, he should stand in the upcoming GE and be made minister for sure”. He adds: “Politicians in all other countries lose or even retire and make a comeback, So no reason why George Yeo should not. I’ve always been his ardent fan.”
Past President of Eurasian Association (1989-1991) Victor Olsen salutes Mr Yeo as an “intelligent, very well read and respected world-class statesman”. He says: “I believe his wife’s serious health issues gave him a more profound appreciation of the true meaning and value of family and life.
“I pray he has now found deeper inner peace and his priorities are now even more family-centric. With the above blessings, why on earth would George want to risk a political comeback in Singapore? If at all, he has my vote to be the next Elected President.”
The continuing gossips of a returning political comeback will go on as Mr Yeo, coming on to 65 in September , is a fitness-freak and can last a longer distance even after he retires from an overseas career.
Simply because the popular heartland view from Jurong to Joo Chiat, Woodlands to Whampoa, is that the former Foreign Minister can capture the political aspirations of the younger generation, even synch with the 4G(fourth-generation) leadership and, most significantly, make positive Singapore-centric contributions.