Singapore's early political history generated lively discussion at the sophomore session of the Straits Times (ST) Book Club yesterday.
The book at the centre of the debate was Lee's Lieutenants, a re-issued title on founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his Old Guard of first-generation leaders.
Discussing it with ST head of training and development Lydia Lim were its editors, law academic Kevin Tan and senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute at National University of Singapore (NUS) Lam Peng Er. Close to 150 people attended the session at the National Library Board's headquarters.
The book was first issued in 1999 by Australian publisher Allen & Unwin and reissued earlier this year by Straits Times Press, arriving amid interest over Singapore's impending leadership renewal.
The 14 lieutenants profiled in the book include Dr Toh Chin Chye, Mr Lim Kim San, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Eddie Barker, Mr S. Rajaratnam and Mr Ahmad Ibrahim.
The nature of the late Mr Lee's Cabinet was very different from the one his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leads today, observed the authors. "Today's is a very manufactured Cabinet," said Dr Tan, 56, an adjunct professor at the NUS Faculty of Law. "It is not a Cabinet that grew out of that combustible situation where you have Independence on the horizon."
They recounted anecdotes about the Old Guard, from the renowned sportsmanship of Mr Barker to the "cantankerous" nature of Dr Toh, who once slammed the telephone down on Dr Lam but later made up with him and Dr Tan after they wrote a letter appealing to him as a "scholar and a gentleman".
Participant Henrietta Goh, 27, said she appreciated the candid discussion. "I liked the little nuggets of history that are not commonly known, such as the relationships between the different 'lieutenants'."