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When Goh Chok Tong felt ‘perplexed, stunned, dumbfounded’

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Goh Chok Tong opens up in biography on working with Lee Kuan Yew

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 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, revealed these feelings for the first time in Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, a biography that has hit the book stores.

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 he was "wooden" when speaking in public or on television.

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.

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 said 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.

However, he adds, without elaborating, that he would not speak to Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon Juan.

Singapore Politics