In an effusive Facebook post where he called Dr Mahathir Mohamad “amazing” multiple times, Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong has indicated that he is on good terms with the Malaysian Prime Minister despite a viral photo that seemed to suggest otherwise.
A photo showing ESM Goh and Dr Mahathir at Singapore’s National Day Parade on Friday (9 Aug) went viral on social media and gave rise to speculation that all may not be well between the two politicians, given the sour expressions on their faces:
The photo captured the imaginations of netizens so thoroughly that it even spawned multiple memes on social media:
ESM Goh, however, has indicated that all is well between Dr Mahathir and himself. In a Facebook post published on Saturday (10 Aug), he gushed:
“Mahathir is an amazing man. He flew to Japan to receive an honorary degree, stayed overnight, flew back to Kuala Lumpur to receive President Jokowi, then flew to Singapore and came directly from the airport to the Padang.
“His wife Siti Hasmah is amazing too. Not a minute of rest. And looking fresh. Amazing couple.
“They honour Singapore with their presence at our 54th National Day. It underlines the strong, historical and inseparable ties between two neighbours. May our ties grow even stronger.”
While Dr Mahathir’s social media team mentioned his presence at Singapore’s parade and covered the PM’s meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, no mention of ESM Goh was made:
Last year, certain Facebook posts that ESM Goh published fueled speculation that the former head of government may stand against the ruling party in the next election – the same way Malaysian leader Dr Mahathir left his party to unite the opposition across the causeway and topple the government.
In May last year, rumours that ESM Goh may “do a Mahathir” began spreading like wildfire after ESM Goh made a reference to Dr Mahathir.
Sharing a picture with Dr Tan Cheng Bock from his 77th birthday bash, ESM Goh alluded to Mahathir’s stunning election victory and said: “Age is just a number, as Mahathir has proven. But it is family and friends who make that number light, meaningful and memorable. Thanks, all my friends out there.”
Earlier that month, when news of Dr Mahathir’s victory broke, ESM Goh congratulated the veteran politician and drew parallels between Dr Mahathir and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In July, ESM Goh posted a photo of himself posing with a 3D painting of Dr Mahathir extending his hand towards patrons at a Malaysian art museum. Dr Mahathir himself posed for a picture with the same painting, when he inaugurated the museum in February 2015:
Although ESM Goh also posted some other photos from his trip to the museum, the photo of him in the Mahathir exhibit was notable – it even appeared as a separate post, apart from the post featuring the other pictures, on his Facebook page.
ESM Goh’s post congratulating Dr Mahathir, his subsequent referencing a quote by Dr Mahathir and his photo with the painting of Dr Mahathir renewed speculation that he may follow in the footsteps of the Malaysian PM.
The speculation was especially rife since ESM Goh’s posts came just a few months after an exchange between ESM Goh and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led netizens to speculate that an internal conflict may be brewing between the pair.
Netizens responding to the unusual exchange appeared to largely feel that there is some sort of strain in the relationship between the nation’s current and immediate past Prime Ministers. Others urged ESM Goh to “do a Mahathir” and join the opposition to fight against the ruling party.
This January, however, ESM Goh put an end to such calls when he asserted he will not “do a Mahathir”. He wrote:
“I too try and touch the lives of our vulnerable citizens, old and young. At 78, I find this a more meaningful way to continue working for a kinder and gentler society than trying to make a come-back in politics. Unlike in Malaysia, there is no need to do a Mahathir in Singapore.”
The comment was taken by many to be a dig at ESM Goh’s longtime friend, Dr Tan Cheng Bock – a former ruling party MP who has now formed his own opposition party. This month, ESM Goh openly attacked his old friend when Dr Tan said that the ruling PAP has changed and has “lost its way.”
ESM Goh sniped on social media later: “Tan Cheng Bock says that Lee Kuan Yew invited him to join the PAP. Ouch! He omits to say that I put his name up to LKY. Surely I deserve some credit — or rather, blame — for who he has become now?”
The former Prime Minister added: “Tan Cheng Bock was my classmate in Raffles Institution. I have known him close for over 60 years. It saddens me to see how he has “lost his way”. He is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills”