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“I thought of Hsien Yang for politics but he would be outshone by his brother”: Goh Chok Tong

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Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has revealed in his recently released biography that he thought of roping founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s youngest son Lee Hsien Yang into politics but ultimately decided against it because he believes Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son, current PM Lee Hsien Loong, would have outshone his younger brother.

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 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 relationship with Lee Kuan Yew and the members of his family.

Earlier in the biography, Goh asserted that he was the one who spotted and roped Lee Hsien Loong into politics.

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He also revealed that Lee Kuan Yew asked him to consider inviting his daughter Lee Wei Ling to join the ruling party but that he did not approach Lee’s middle child after Lee Hsien Loong advised him against it.

When Peh asked Goh whether Lee Kuan Yew recommended that Goh rope his youngest boy into politics, Goh said Lee did not.

He added that he did think of Lee Hsien Yang but did not approach him because he would have been outshone by his elder brother and partly because he did not want to be seen as just a figurehead if three Lee men are in Parliament:

“He never mentioned Hsien Yang. I thought of Hsien Yang, but I did not recommend him because I think he would be outshone by his brother.

“Having two brothers in Parliament was okay – Bernard Chen and Kenneth Chen, at one time.

“But in Cabinet, how could I succeed as a PM if the father was there, the elder son and the second son too? Nobody would believe am my own man isn’t it? With three – what chance would you have? I mean, that was how people would think, not knowing we are individuals.”

Goh continued that Lee Hsien Yang “would be different from the brother,” had he entered politics since he is not a yes man.

Referencing the 38 Oxley Road dispute that unfolded last year, in which Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling alleged that Lee Hsien Loong tried to preserve their family home against their late father’s last wishes, Goh said:

“Hsien Yang, had he come in, he would be different from the brother. These are not yes-men. You see the situation now, he is fighting the brother. He would be a different individual with different qualities.

“His value would be – had I been interested, and that was later on – experience in the private sector. Hsien Loong did not have it.”

ESM Goh added that Lee Kuan Yew was a “very honourable person,” because he did not impose his will on his successor and respected Goh’s own opinions:

“So it came back to basics, because Lee Kuan Yew was a very honourable person. You think he would cause us to do things, but no. He would treat you as an equal and then respect your opinion and so on.

“It was not that he said, you do this, you do that. If that was the case, he would not have gotten Tony Tan, myself and Dhanabalan to work for him.”

Lee Hsien Yang’s eldest son, Li Shengwu, is presently being sued by the authorities for remarks he made about the Singapore courts, in a private “friends only” Facebook post in which he shared a link to a report about the Oxley Road dispute.

Published by World Scientific, Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story is now available at all major bookstores in Singapore. The biography can also be purchased for $56 for the hardcover version and $37 for the softcover version online directly at World Scientific’s website.

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