SINGAPORE: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said on Friday (May 7) that he commends Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat for his “self-sacrifice” in stepping aside as leader of the 4G or fourth-generation leadership team.
At the launch of a second volume of his biography titled Standing Tall, Mr Goh said that there has been a “hiccup” in the political transition in Singapore but that it was “part of the process”.
“There were also hiccups before the Old Guard passed on the baton to the 2G. I recounted them in my first volume, Tall Order,” said the former Prime Minister.
“I commend DPM Heng Swee Keat for his self-sacrifice in stepping aside as leader of the 4G. It takes courage and selflessness to do this when one is only a step away from being prime minister.
“He has put the interests of Singapore first, like a good leader should.”
Mr Heng, 60, said in April that he would remove himself as next-in-line to be prime minister, a surprise to many and a setback for succession plans. He cited his age as one of the reasons, and said that a younger leader with a “longer runway” should take over.
The 4G leaders, comprising Cabinet ministers and senior cadres of the People’s Action Party (PAP), will choose a leader from among themselves and asked for more time to do so.
The frontrunners for the post are seen to be Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Education Minister Lawrence Wong and Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung.
All three were given new posts in a Cabinet reshuffle last month.
Mr Goh said on Friday that the process of “orderly political transition” continues, and advised the 4G leaders to work closely as a team.
“Show confidence and leadership as a group. Hone your political skills and prepare yourselves to take over the reins from the 3G. Deliberate carefully who amongst you should be the leader, and band together to support the leader once a decision is made,” he said.
Mr Goh also appealed to Singaporeans to give the 4G team some time to decide on their “primus inter pares” - first among equals - as it is an important decision for Singapore’s future.
“The leader so chosen will have to lead his peers like the captain of a soccer team. They will have to work together to produce the best results for the people, just as a soccer team has to click to win matches for its fans,” he said.
“The whole must always be greater than the sum of its parts.”
Mr Goh said that his objective in publishing his biography was to encourage Singaporeans to serve their country.
"I do not believe that good leaders will automatically emerge in a democracy nor that the whims of elections can guarantee a slate of the best to govern the country," he said.
"For democracy to work, ours anyway, we must offer the best candidates possible for the people to choose."
The former Prime Minister emphasised that “carefully managed” political succession is the “hallmark” of Singapore politics, and that it has given the country “political predictability, stability and good governments”.
“In 2065, will the world write about the miracle of a Singapore Century of stability, growth and prosperity? Or will they use us as a case study of how an outstanding nation became an ordinary country like any other, or worse, a failed state?” he asked.
“Singapore is a city state, not a big country. If able people fail to step out into the political arena or if we do not signal strong support for good leaders, Singapore’s drop will be more precipitous than its rise.”
Standing Tall was written by former journalist with The Straits Times Peh Shing Huei, who is a partner at content agency The Nutgraf. It comes after the first volume of Mr Goh’s biography titled Tall Order, and recounts Mr Goh’s years as Singapore’s prime minister from 1990 to 2004.
The book launch on Friday was attended by several leaders from Mr Goh’s era whom he thanked for being a part of his team.
“I want to thank in particular my colleagues who had served with me – Tony Tan, Jayakumar, Wong Kan Seng, Dhanabalan and others who are here today, as well as those who are not,” said Mr Goh. “Let me add that Ong Teng Cheong was an invaluable member of my team.”
There were three former deputy prime ministers in attendance - former President Tony Tan, Professor S Jayakumar and Mr Wong Kan Seng. Mr S Dhanabalan was a Cabinet minister for a number of ministries during his time in the Government.
Mr Ong Teng Cheong was also a deputy prime minister and Singapore's first elected President. He died in 2002.
“We might have had different points of view but once a decision was made, all of us rallied behind it. We trusted each other. We worked as a team, with members looking out for one another. We had a shared sense of purpose. We were united. Without this team, I would not have succeeded as Prime Minister,” said Mr Goh.
He also thanked his successor, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for being an “indispensable member” of his Cabinet.
“One day, you have to write the sequel to my story and to the Singapore Story of Lee Kuan Yew,” said Mr Goh.