Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s latest Facebook post has caused Singaporeans to express their desire to see the former head of government 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.
This, after ESM Goh posted photos from his 77th birthday bash. Sharing a photo with veteran politician Dr Tan Cheng Bock who attended his exclusive party, 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.”
92-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad made history by defeating the incumbent at the polls and ushering in Malaysia’s first transition of power since independence, at the watershed 2018 Malaysian General Election.
Dr Mahathir, who helped establish the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in power and served as Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, stepped out of retirement and left the ruling party to lead the opposition. Breaking the BN’s six-decade long monopoly, Dr Mahathir beat his one-time protégé Najib Razak and became the world’s oldest head of government earlier this 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:
ESM Goh’s post congratulating Dr Mahathir and his latest post touching on how Dr Mahathir has proven age is just a number come 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.
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”:
ESM Goh’s posts touching on Dr Mahathir’s success have caused netizens to call on him to ‘do a Mahathir’ and join the opposition camp to fight the incumbent. Both men share similarities, having been Prime Ministers of their respective nations in the past. At 77, ESM Goh is 15 years junior to Dr Mahathir as well.
These calls come after Dr Mahathir’s historic win prompted many Singaporeans to express their desire for Dr Tan Cheng Bock to achieve something similar by contesting the next election from the opposition’s camp:
The inclusion of a photo with Dr Tan in ESM Goh’s latest Facebook post have prompted many Singaporeans to call on ESM Goh to join forces with Dr Tan to achieve a win against the ruling party.
Both Dr Tan and ESM Goh have been noted to be close. In 2014, ESM Goh underwent a major surgery and Dr Tan was one of just three visitors who were permitted to see the ESM apart from his immediate family.
Describing Dr Tan as a “very close friend”, ESM Goh later wrote on Facebook: “I also had an almost hour-long chat with Tan Cheng Bock, my very close friend from school. We talked about mutual friends, health issues and families. Thanks, Bock. I am glad to see you in good health and keeping yourself busy.”
In one of his most recent comments about Dr Tan, ESM Goh had said when Dr Tan announced his intention to contest the last Presidential Election that Dr Tan’s decision to announce his bid for presidency before the election can be seen as a “calculated political gambit” that is open to interpretation.
ESM Goh had said then, in 2016, that Dr Tan – who had lost the 2011 Presidential Election by just over 0.3 per cent of votes – was perhaps politicising the process by announcing his intention to contest the 2017 presidential race as a Constitutional Commission was reviewing the eligibility criteria for candidates at the time.
Speaking to reporters then, ESM Goh said: “His move was a calculated political gambit and, of course, it is open to many interpretations or even misinterpretations. One could interpret his move as coming from someone who is ambitious, as making a move to be president, or it could be to discourage others from coming in.
“Last time, there were four candidates and he nearly won, (he) lost by a small margin. So if you can discourage others from coming in, it’s a straight fight, then you will have a better chance.”
ESM Goh added: “I know how the Government thinks, we plan ahead to ensure there will be a stable, fair and contestable system that will stand Singapore in good stead. And the system must enable good candidates to contest for president.
“But the commission is still reviewing the process. By coming out now and risking being misunderstood that you are trying to influence the commission’s working, in a way, he has been politicising the process.”
Interestingly, ESM Goh also reaffirmed his friendship with Dr Tan during the same interview and said that he was not surprised by Dr Tan’s announcement: “Indeed, he is an old friend. I’ve known him for over 55 years. What he did was in keeping with his character. Once he has decided to do something, (he) will do all he can to achieve that goal.”
“In the past, we would have spoken to one another. But after the last presidential election, he was and will be on his own.
“We are still very good friends, still go out with each other, but I will not try to influence him…I will just wish him good luck.”
Despite ESM Goh’s assertion that Dr Tan “will be on his own” after the 2011 Presidential Election, Dr Tan’s appearance at ESM Goh’s intimate 77th birthday party has turned heads.
Netizens are now calling on the two politicians to put aside their differences and come together for the good of the nation, like Mahathir did with opposition coalition partners across the causeway:
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