SINGAPORE - Veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong, 84, entered politics not for selfish reasons, or because he thought the ruling People's Action Party was not doing a good job, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
It was because Mr Chiam believed that Singapore should have a two-party system like other liberal democracies, said Mr Goh at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner on Thursday (Aug 22).
Mr Goh, on the other hand, believes a small, vulnerable country like Singapore needs a strong, durable government to protect and advance the people's interests.
Despite their differences in views, Mr Chiam practised constructive politics and helped set the tone for civil Parliamentary debate in Singapore, he added.
Mr Goh said his respect for Mr Chiam as a "well-meaning, decent and honest politician and Member of Parliament" was why he accepted the invitation to be guest-of-honour at the dinner.
The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund was set up in Mr Chiam's name in March 2017, to help under-privileged children and athletes in their sporting journey.
Mr Chiam made a surprise appearance midway through the dinner, to loud cheers and applause. He was originally set to skip the event due to health reasons.
Dressed in a black suit, pink shirt and red tie, Mr Chiam was wheeled in by his wife Lina.
Mr Goh and Senior Minister of State for Health and Law Edwin Tong greeted him halfway down the ballroom aisle. While Mr Chiam was unable to talk, he managed to shake hands with them.
He stayed on for about 45 minutes before leaving. Many attendees went up to take photos with him and wish him well.
"He knows what's important and what's going on, but he just can't articulate. It's all a natural part of ageing," Mrs Chiam told reporters, adding that Mr Chiam rarely attends public events nowadays.
"I'm glad that he made it. His meeting with ESM Goh was very eventful. Although he couldn't speak, there was a connection. Sometimes words are not needed," she said.
She added that the two veteran politicians have strong respect for each other.
Mr Chiam, who was elected as MP for Potong Pasir in 1984, was Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP until 2011, when he and his Singapore People's Party team lost the contest for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund has helped more than 30 athletes to date, including modern pentathlete Kok Kiat Xuan, national powerlifters Matthew Yap and Matthias Yap, and sailor Olivia Chen.
More than $160,000 was raised from the event held at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel. Mr Goh had donated and autographed one of his golf clubs, which was auctioned for $5,000.
In his speech, Mr Goh said Mr Chiam had championed the cause of supporting local athletes.
He cited how Mr Chiam had asked about the state of financial support for athletes, during the Budget debate in 1989.
Mr Chiam had said: "Sad to say, our sports level as far as the international standard is concerned, is at the kampung level. I think we have to do something to build up one or two champions and that will give inspiration to other sportsmen."
Mr Goh said he believed in the unifying power of sports for a young nation like Singapore, citing historic highlights such as the heyday of the Malaysia Cup in the 1970s and swimmer Joseph Schooling winning a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics.
"Sports can also help build character, discipline and resilience. The Chiam See Tong Sports Fund is doing precisely that by helping children and youths from disadvantaged backgrounds reach their sporting dreams," he said.
Mr Jose Raymond, founding member of the fund and chairman of the organising committee of the gala dinner, said: "This is what the power of collaboration looks like. Our emphasis has to be plugging gaps in the arena of sports which will reduce or eradicate the instances and probability of inequality in sports.
"Together we can do our part to change a life or two by having many hands-on-deck approach, to give our young athletes a boost in life."