Singapore GE2020: Don't rock the 'Singapore sampan', ESM Goh cautions

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (second from left) and PAP candidate for Marine Parade GRC Tan See Leng greeting a resident while eating at Marine Terrace Market yesterday. Mr Goh recounted on Facebook how he had to confront critical issues si
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (second from left) and PAP candidate for Marine Parade GRC Tan See Leng greeting a resident while eating at Marine Terrace Market yesterday. Mr Goh recounted on Facebook how he had to confront critical issues similar to those in the current election in 2001. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The "Singapore sampan" is out in the choppy open sea, and the waves are getting dangerously bigger.

In providing this analogy yesterday, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had two "survival tips" for Singaporeans ahead of the general election on Friday.

"One, don't rock the boat; two, pick a crew with the skills to row the sampan, and row in unison with them," he said in a Facebook post.

Mr Goh, 79, recounted how he had to confront critical issues similar to those in the current election in the 2001 General Election, when he was prime minister: lives, jobs and an uncertain future.

He had called an election after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks, at a time when the global economy and future looked bleak and uncertain, and the tourism and aviation sectors were badly affected.

Mr Goh said he did so to get a strong mandate from Singaporeans to tackle these grave issues. "I fought it on the basis of 'jobs, jobs, jobs'. The people gave me their strong support. We pulled together, and Singapore emerged stronger. The positive results from the 2001 GE also allowed me to proceed with my political succession plan."

The People's Action Party won 75 per cent of the vote, securing a landslide win to lead the nation out of the economic crisis. In August 2004, Mr Goh relinquished the prime minister's post to Mr Lee Hsien Loong.

"PM Lee is now fighting Covid-19, saving jobs and creating new ones, as well as planning for leadership transition. All this, while navigating treacherous international waters. The Government is facing an even tougher situation than in 2001 because the future looks dangerously uncertain," said Mr Goh.

No one knows how long the pandemic will last, he added. Globalisation and free trade are losing steam, and relations between the United States and China are tense.

Many bread-and-butter issues are raised during election campaigns, he noted. "But few ask where the bread and the butter come from. For Singapore, they come from abroad," he said. The global ecosystem is therefore important for Singapore.

Mr Goh, who grew up in Pasir Panjang, said he knew a thing or two about the difficulties of rowing a sampan in rough waters. His first lesson: Never rock the boat. Second, one needs skills to keep the small boat afloat in choppy waters.

"I had to steer our tiny Singapore sampan through many choppy waters - economic recessions, financial crises, terrorist threats and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome)," wrote Mr Goh. "We did so safely because Singaporeans rowed together with me. I will never forget the unity and support from fellow Singaporeans in times of crisis."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2020, with the headline Don't rock the 'Singapore sampan', ESM Goh cautions. Subscribe