ESM Goh says the ruling party should have 75-80% majority in Parliament to allow for long-term planning

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong speaking to Channel NewsAsia at the Istana on Nov 26, 2018. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Speaking to Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao as reported by Straits Times, ahead of the launch of the Chinese-language edition of his book, Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he would like to see the governing party in Singapore have a “clear majority” of seats in parliament in 20 years’ time.

When asked what he hopes the political landscape in Singapore will look like in two decades, the former Premier said, “I believe that the party in charge must have a clear majority of the seats, meaning – off the top of my head – 75 to 80 per cent of seats, then they come across as a strong government.”

By that estimate, the opposition should then take up about 20-25% of seats in Parliament.

ESM Goh added that he hopes to see “intelligent, constructive, critical opposition” that can challenge the Government. “Then you have a real debate.”

He did however also say that he doesn’t think the role of the opposition should be one of “check and balance” as he feels that means the government is not doing things right.

ESM Goh also emphasised that the Government will not dare to plan ahead and take long-term action if they only have a majority by one or two seats as “it must begin to worry about the next election.”

When ESM Goh was Prime Minister, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) won 83 out of 89 seats in the 2015 General Election. That’s about 93% majority.

When asked whether the current political system has to change in order to achieve this vision he has for the country’s future political landscape, ESM Goh said he doesn’t think it does.

“We have done what we could to stabilise the system,” he said. These ‘stabilisers’ he’s referring to are things like the group representation constituency and Nominated Members of Parliament.

ESM Goh was also asked during the interview about ‘groupthink’ in government given that many PAP ministers come from the public service.

He said it was a big worry. He added that it’s been increasingly difficult to attract talents from the private sector to get into politics. However, he also said that fewer people from the public sector are willing to enter into politics nowadays too with quite a few having declined when approached.

“Fortunately – and people laugh, you know – I say fortunately, we have the SAF generals,” he added. These former generals have an understanding for the importance of defence, security and nation building, which makes them “good material” for governing, says ESM Goh.

However, he cautioned that if a bulk of cabinet members are made up of people from the SAF, then there a risk of groupthink which can be “very dangerous for us”.

ESM Goh highlights the importance of having diverse representation in government from not only the armed forces but also civil service, as well as the private and social section. It’s one way to ensure “a diversity of views”, says ESM Goh.

During the interview, ESM Goh was asked also if he has any regrets. He revealed that his real regret was the dispute between the government and former president Ong Ten Cheong back in the late 90s.

Mr Ong was at loggerhead with the then government over what information he was entitled to regarding the national assets that made by the country’s reserves.

Speaking on the matter, ESM Goh said, “We did not quite understand each other’s thinking and needs.” He noted that he had initially left the civil servants to address Mr Ong’s complaints.

He continued, “Had we worked the system a bit better, I think we could have avoided that. Put it this way, the presidency ended on a sour note because of that exchange.”

On the flip side, ESM Goh said his proudest moment was handing over the Premiership to current PM Lee Hsien Loong. ESM Goh said he knew he could plan to handover the reigns to PM Lee sooner rather than later following the 2001 General Elections.

Similar to how Singapore was “in very good shape” when he succeeded the premiership from founding PM Lee Kuan Yew, ESM Goh said the country was also in good shape when he handed the reigns over to the former premier’s son, Lee Hsien Loong.

“That was my proudest moment. I had done my job.”

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