PAP once thought of splitting itself into 2 to "satisfy the people" with "real debate" in Parliament

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership | November 04, 2018, 01:55 PM

Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong story is the biography of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong telling the story of Goh's life and political career.

The book is written by ex-Straits Times editor Peh Shing Huei and published by World Scientific. You can buy a copy here, or at all major bookstores.

Within each chapter, a Q&A segment detailing Peh's interviews with Goh are also included. An excerpt from the Q&A in one of the chapters in his book, "From Nanny to Buddy", is reproduced here, so these are Goh's own words:


Interview with Goh Chok Tong

I did not assume the PAP was the only one who could keep Singapore going forever.

If we can have good people in Parliament, regardless of party, then you do not have to worry who runs the government. Then whether A or B is in charge, you worry less. And we have toyed with the idea of that model.

When the PAP had 100 per cent of the Parliament, Lee Kuan Yew and the younger leaders talked about whether we should split the party into two. Then there are all good men and women to well, then, satisfy the people.

We would have real debate — not wayang — but real debate between two groups. But both groups are the PAP people. So, when they changed government, it is PAP 1 or PAP 2.

Why didn’t you go ahead?

The resources were so limited.

So if you divide the PAP team into two, you would weaken the government right away.

You can get MPs, but the government — to get, say, 15 or 20 people — you do not divide your first team into two. You just cannot.

So, we used to joke about this. Supposing I am PM on one side and Tony on the other side. Then I pick Ong Teng Cheong and he would pick Yeo Ning Hong. Then I pick Wong Kan Seng, he picks Jayakumar.

See, that is how you would pick your football team in school right? But would this be better for Singapore? I said no.

We must have our strongest team available to play against another school, the rest of the world.

So, you had seriously discussed it?

Yes. We discussed it, albeit not that seriously as to proceed with it. We discussed many times.

Wouldn’t that suggest that you believe a two-party, one-man-one-vote system is a more stable one?

We had a deep suspicion of one man, one vote. Democracy favours the man with the most persuasive tongue, with the most populist policies, and he will win.

But you have no other way and you must get a mandate from the people.

So we worked out a system where you put in stabilisers into your democratic system. Then the good people would be in charge. So, it is geared towards getting good people into Parliament.

Without the Elected Presidency, anyone can make all sorts of promises during elections, promising free healthcare and free this and that.

But with the Elected Presidency, you don’t hear as much of such promises from the opposition.

So, by their not doing so, we have actually taken out populist politics in terms of giveaways. There are other kinds of populism, but populist politics in terms of giving away things — they cannot do that now.

You must know that the PAP is a fluke.

Because Mr Lee was so strong and he instituted the system and we are now trying to replicate it.

And most Singaporeans accept it. But it does not mean it will last forever. That’s why we need to have stabilisers in our political system.

Since the goal is to get good people in, it should please you that the Workers’ Party is increasingly attracting candidates whom people say are like the PAP’s?

When they get good people, it is a challenge to us. But it is better that you are challenged by good people and you may lose to them than to be challenged by people who are shady characters but very able politicians.

Able politicians, but who are crooks, or if not crooks but have short-term, populist thinking — they will bring us down the wrong route and go into spending and spending, just to win the elections — it would be troublesome.

Good people in opposition is a challenge to us, but it is better for us because if you lose, the next morning, when you get up, the country will go on.

Of course, we hope we would not lose.

So, you do like the opposition being able to attract better candidates?

Yes. That is good for them and for us. That they can attract better people with slightly different or sometimes fundamentally different points of view. That is okay — we can debate it out.

But are they honest? Are they committed? Are they doing this for Singapore? That is what you want to know.

I am not passing any judgment. But if you get good, honest people on the other side, that is all right. Then you have a real debate and the quality of Parliament is different. Your quality of government would be very different.

So, whether you lose or win, it then does not become a disaster for Singapore. Other than for those people in charge, you do not lose sleep over it.

Then Mr Lee would not turn in his grave and I would not turn in my grave.

That is very enlightened. Would future PMs hold the same view?

Don’t get me wrong. You must fight to win because you are the better team. You must believe that, isn’t it?

But I am saying if they are a better team, and when you lose, you are not going to see riots in the streets tomorrow. You are not going to be charged by the other party.

First of all, you do not worry because you did not commit a crime. You did not take money and put them under the pillow or somewhere. But the big worry would be whether the other chap is trying to undo everything.

But look, you think the opposition will not face the same problems as us if they become the government?

They are heroes now in their position. But once they are in government and the MRT breaks down, they get the same blame. That is the nature of the system, isn’t it?

If Low Thia Khiang is in charge and a few things break down, things are not well maintained, people will blame his government. And we will blame the government. That is the nature of politics.

The moment they have a chance to be government, the fight will start in the party — who would be the finance minister, who would be the foreign minister? I do not believe that when they are in charge, they will not have any problems. That’s the way it goes in politics.

But nevertheless, if you have honest people in charge, they can do all this and the country will not go too far wrong.

It comes back in the end to an intelligent electorate, which I think we have.

Generally speaking, the results turned out all right and the people would know how to signal the government where they are unhappy. What we want is a vigilant electorate.

They say, this chap — Chee Soon Juan — I do not trust him and the electorate does not trust him. He may be intelligent, but a bit slippery — better don’t trust him. Sylvia Lim — she is not as good as Shanmugam, but okay, she is an honest woman, so yeah, okay, we need her.

The fourth PM would be challenged more severely than me and Hsien Loong electorally.

Would I be worried that he would be challenged by a very able person? The answer would be no.

Would I be worried if he was challenged by a very slippery kind of a politician? The answer is yes.

If that person can knock out our team, then that is worse for us.

Read more of our excerpts from "Tall Order":

Top photo via Wikipedia & MParader's Facebook page.


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