On 4th August, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong posted on Facebook,
saying that he received 2 types of feedback – one, to retire, and two, to
continue serving the residents of Marine Parade, where he has been an MP for
39 years, since 1976. He said that he would explain his decision 10 days
14th August came, and Goh Chok Tong finally opened up, saying he would run.
Question is – why hesitate to tell straightaway? If ESM Goh still felt he
had the stamina and heart to carry on serving Marine Parade residents, he
could have simply said yes, or even given clearer hints at running. Yet he
chose to be cryptic about it, leaving many of us guessing.
Why did he need to contemplate at all? Being the former PM of Singapore, Goh
still holds influence in his ward. Don’t forget that he was the anchor
minister for Marine Parade in the 2011 general election. And even though it
was widely believed that Tin Pei Ling pulled their vote share down (by 16%,
to 56% from 72% in the 1992 by-election, almost granting the NSP an NCMP
seat), Goh’s influence still enabled them to win. Fast-forward to 2015, and
the WP looks set to contest the ward.
The WP, having 9 seats (7 elected, 2 NCMP) in Parliament, announced that it
would contest on 26th July. And judging by party brand name, the WP is widely
seen as the most viable and powerful alternative against the PAP. The
incumbents, Edwin Tong, Tan Chuan-Jin have both only served one term. Fatimah
Lateef and Seah Kian Peng, two terms. Goh Chok Tong himself has served 10
terms – a long shot in comparison to his comrades. If faced by a team of WP
heavyweights, what would be the likely result without Goh?
If Goh had seen the threat the WP posed to the PAP in Marine Parade, he
wouldn’t have said he was considering whether or not to stand. For the sake
and safety of his PAP, he would have simply agreed to stay on and fight.
So why did he hesitate? He could be considering a run for the Presidency, as
elections need to be held by 2017. Why? Tony Tan fought the hardest campaign
of his life. In a 4-cornered fight with Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say, and Tan
Kin Lian, he barely squeezed through, winning by only 0.3%. In comparison to
the only other elected president, Ong Teng Cheong, Tony’s popularity has been
As a 35.2% president, Tony showed signs of being unsure about his presidency,
even during his campaign, when he said at his rally on 24th August 2011, “I
don’t know if I’ll win, but I have to try.” Why was he so unsure, when it
was clear he had the backing of many clan associations, unions, and even the
PAP (yes, the PAP backed his run. This even was confirmed by former Foreign
Minister George Yeo)? This shows that he knew he was highly unpopular, even
up until now. Would he run again, and risk being the first President in
Singapore’s history to be voted out? Unlikely. He would spare himself the
embarrassment and emotional stress of campaigning and simply bow out, to let
someone else of greater or equal influence attempt to take over the reins.
But who else can do so? Many ministers in the 2000s weren’t popular or
well-loved by Singaporeans in general. But Goh Chok Tong still holds that
level of popularity and track record. As PM, Goh’s national vote share for
the PAP rose steadily in his 3 elections. From the low 61% in 1992, he
brought it up to 65%, then 75.3%. His popularity among older generations
Supposedly, during the time he was considering whether or not to continue
running in Marine Parade, he could’ve weighed out his option this way –
step down before the GE, but remain in a key Government position, before
running for president in 2017. That way, he would have a perfect electoral
record of winning in all his general elections, and wouldn’t have to give up
his MP seat halfway through, just to run for President.
But even though now Goh has confirmed he’ll be staying on to contest Marine
Parade, it doesn’t mean that he won’t consider running for President at all.
He could simply say he was “called to serve a greater cause”, that
textbook excuse, and still run.
After all, on 26th August, Goh hinted in his press conference that he
“might have to do certain national duties in the next election, the one
after this”. Goh, being a retired PM and Cabinet Minister, definitely won’t
return to Cabinet. So, in all likelihood, the ‘national duties’ he was
referring to would be running for President, and the ‘next election, the one
after this’, would be the next presidential election.
Watch out. If Tony Tan retires as President by 2017, Goh Chok Tong might run
in his place.