New book tells of how ESM Goh felt after public criticism from Mr Lee

Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story is available at major bookstores, at $56 (hardcover) and $37 (paperback), excluding GST.

When founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew delivered his National Day Rally speech in 1988, many in Singapore were shocked to hear him say that then Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was not his first choice to be his successor.

Seated in the front row in the audience, Mr Goh, who by that time had been chosen by his fellow younger ministers as their next leader, felt "perplexed, stunned and dumbfounded".

Mr Goh, now 77 and Emeritus Senior Minister, reveals these feelings for the first time in Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, a biography that has hit the bookstores.

The book also details for the first time how Mr Goh felt humiliated when, a week after the rally, then-PM Lee made more public criticisms of him, saying that he was "wooden" when speaking in public or on television.

Still, Mr Goh says: "It was not personal. He was not out to humiliate me for personal reasons, even though I felt humiliated."

He adds: "I never doubted that he wanted me to succeed. If anything, he was exasperated with my lack of public communicative skills."

Tall Order chronicles Mr Goh in his youth, his entry into politics and the highs and lows in his journey to become Singapore's second prime minister.

Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story is available at major bookstores, at $56 (hardcover) and $37 (paperback), excluding GST.

It also reveals the deliberations and negotiations between Mr Goh and Mr Lee before Singapore's maiden leadership transfer in 1990.

Among the anecdotes is how Mr Lee once suggested his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, to Mr Goh as a possible MP "because of her social conscience, which was very strong", and because it was difficult to get female political candidates at that time.

"So, he was helping me. It was not because he wanted her, but he was helping me to look for candidates. It was in that context - here was a good candidate."

Written by former Straits Times news editor Peh Shing Huei, 43, now a partner at content agency The Nutgraf, and published by World Scientific, the 344-page book is the first of two volumes.

It has a foreword and afterword by Mr Goh, and a Q&A segment in each of the book's 10 chapters.

In his foreword, Mr Goh says he had never intended to write his memoirs, but agreed to his story being told to achieve three objectives.

First, to encourage present and future generations of Singaporeans to consider political office, regardless of their background or upbringing.

Second, to tell the story of Singapore's second-generation leadership.

"Finally, my story of working with Lee Kuan Yew, and to a lesser extent Lee Hsien Loong, holds intriguing lessons too," Mr Goh wrote.

"Most relationships between top men and their successors do not end well. But ours did. We made it work."

In one segment, Mr Goh answers a question on veteran opposition figures, Singapore People's Party leader Chiam See Tong and Workers' Party MP Low Thia Khiang. He says he is friendly with both, and regards Mr Chiam as a friend.

"We always watch. What is the purpose, their aspirations, their goals, and would they bring Singapore down? Or would they be just difficult opponents for us? Then we got to be better than them," he says.

"So, if they are honest and honourable and want to do good for Singapore even though it is in a different way, well, we can have a debate on that.

"But if your views are totally wrong in our view, like promising a welfare state and using the reserves, then we would fight you. We would fight you tooth and nail on your wrong-headed and populist approach."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2018, with the headline New book tells of how ESM Goh felt after public criticism from Mr Lee. Subscribe