Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has taken another passive aggressive dig at one of his colleagues within the ruling party – this time, his target is Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Chan Chun Sing was widely touted to be the leading frontrunner candidate who will become the next Prime Minister of Singapore. At the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Central Executive Committee elections, however, Chan was appointed 2nd Assistant Secretary-General while Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat clinched the 1st Assistant Secretary-General post.
Heng Swee Keat’s appointment as 1st Assistant Secretary-General of the ruling PAP indicates that he is the most likely candidate to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as head of government while Chan might become a Deputy Prime Minister in the future.
Yesterday morning, Goh made a dig at Chan as he seemingly praised Chan for his eloquence at a recent event, before following the compliment up with a passive aggressive jibe. He said:
“I attended the Middle East Institute-NUS conference not just as guest-of-honour but also to listen to Minister Chan Chun Sing. He impressed with an insightful speech and thoughtful, succinct, clear answers in the ensuing dialogue. But as we know, one swallow does not a summer make.”
The phrase “one swallow does not a summer make” is an old proverb, that most notably arose from a Richard Taverner’s 1539 transcription of the Latin proverbs of Erasmus. Taverner transcribed the Latin proverb as such: “It is not one swallow that bryngeth in summer. It is not one good quality that maketh a man good.”
In other words, the phrase means that a single instance of something is just a single instance and is not indicative of a trend.
Several netizens noted ESM Goh’s jibe at Chan Chun Sing. Sharing Goh’s Facebook post on Twitter, local activist Kirsten Han said: “Watching Singapore’s political elite get passive-aggressive is going to be my top spectator sport of 2019.”
She added: “It’s my theory that we are so politically repressed as a people and people so rarely just say what they mean when it comes to issues that we think are sensitive that this might actually have made us very good at paggro shade.”
Several others responding to ESM Goh’s Facebook post noted the last line and praised the former Prime Minister for his “subtle sense of humour”:
This is not the first time that ESM Goh has thrown shade at his ruling party colleagues. In September last year, in the middle of the public uproar over high ministerial pay and the bonus pay package, Goh came out to say that he is not paid a Cabinet Minister’s salary even though he holds the ESM title.
Goh also took the opportunity to throw shade at his predecessor and his successor, as he said, “Instead of threatening to get up from my grave when things go wrong, I prefer to contribute while still alive but without getting in the way of the younger leaders.”
Goh appeared to be referring to the late Lee Kuan Yew’s famous 1988 quote, “Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.” Lee had said the line two years before he handed the reins of the nation over to Goh, in 1990.
While many pointed out that Goh was making a dig at the elder Lee, some also noted that Goh’s cleverly worded statement could also be a dig at Lee Hsien Loong since he asserts that he will not get “in the way of the younger leaders.”
This could be a jibe at what Goh may believe PM Lee is doing – retaining his prime ministership until the next election even in the face of calls for leadership succession.
Earlier last year, Singaporeans began to speculate that an internal conflict may be brewing between Goh and Lee Hsien Loong when the leaders got into a passive aggressive exchange on social media.
The exchange between the top politicians began on New Year’s Eve when ESM Goh urged the younger minister to select the next Prime Minister ideally within 6-9 months time, calling this an “urgent challenge” for the nation.
Later in January, the Prime Minister commented on ESM Goh’s remarks and said that leadership succession will “take a little bit longer” than what ESM Goh had hoped. He added, in what appeared to be a pointed comment, that “ESM (Goh) is speaking with the privilege of watching things rather than being responsible to make it happen. I think we know it’s a very serious matter.”
In response, the ESM took to Facebook and posted a comment that appeared to throw subtle shade at the PM’s “watching things” comment.
Posting about his meeting with former Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, Dr Ali Tayebnia, the former PM said: “I recalled my two visits to Iran fondly, the first as Prime Minister and the second, as Senior Minister. Both of us now ‘watch’ things happen, and coincidentally share a common title. He serves as Senior Advisor to his President while I serve as Senior Advisor to MAS!”
ESM Goh made a similar reference to the “watching” comment in a subsequent post. Uploading two photos, one of himself and another of an unidentified man, the ESM wrote: “I watch as he ruminates in the calmness of Learning Forest, far from the maddening (sic) crowd.”
A few hours later, the PM finally responded by sharing ESM Goh’s post and wrote: “‘Watching’ MParader’s posts: Touché!” – LHL”
Netizens responding to the unusual exchange appear to largely feel that there is some sort of strain in the relationship between the nation’s current and immediate past Prime Ministers.
One netizen wrote, “Using FB to get a message across between a former PM and the current PM reflects a strained relationship that requires some patching up. Hopefully, we don’t end up watching more things happening,” while others have criticised the leaders for being “childish”.