Former senior minister S. Jayakumar, 81, launched his book, “Governing: A Singapore Perspective”, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday (6 Nov). The book talks about his views and experiences of Singapore’s governance.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was the guest of honour at Jayakumar’s book launch yesterday, said he counts Jayakumar as a “close friend and fearsome golf kaki”.
“There are very few like him who have been in the thick of the action or had ring-side seats to Singapore’s political struggles across such a lengthy period. It is no wonder then that Prof writes with authenticity and authority, not vicariously bestowed by position, but as a first-hand witness of those events,” Ng paid tributes to Jayakumar.
Ng also said Jayakumar “has no axe to grind, no point to prove, no lofty ambition that craves to be fulfilled”.
Jayakumar was the dean of NUS’ law school before joining PAP in 1980 and held portfolios that include Foreign Affairs, Law, Home Affairs and Labour. He was Deputy Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009, and appointed Senior Minister thereafter. He retired from politics just before the 2011 GE. However, he continued to advise the government as senior legal adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Jayakumar recalled how he was approached by PAP in 1979 to join politics. He was posed this question, “Supposing you are on the top of our list, and if you say no, and we have to go down the list and everybody else keeps saying no. We then go to the bottom of the list and then later, would you regret it if things went awry in Singapore?”
That evening, he discussed it with his wife and they concluded that they could not say no. “And that’s how I ended up running,” Jayakumar said. But he also said that it is not easy to get people to join politics now, with the additional scrutiny from social media.
PM Lee to delay his stepping down?
In the book, Jayakumar raised the possibility that PM Lee could “revisit his earlier intention not to lead the next general election as PM”.
“What if Singapore is still in dire straits in four to five years’ time closer to the next General Election?” Jayakumar asked in the book, indicating that views that PM Lee should “remain longer at the helm have intensified”.
“Of course, if ‘normalcy’ has been restored before the next GE, I think the public will support his desire to step down as PM. However, if the crisis persists, I believe many Singaporeans will want him to reconsider that aspect of his timeline as well, and hand over only after Singapore has turned the dangerous corner,” Jayakumar said.
Jayakumar also talked about how he suggested to PM Lee in handling the family feud over the Oxley Road family home in his book. Jayakumar said that he wrote to PM Lee, suggesting that it was important for him to make a direct address to all Singaporeans, and not just communicate through press releases by the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I was glad that he made a recorded video statement, which was telecast on 19 June 2017. Clearly, he had already thought of this before my suggestion,” he wrote. He added in the book that he was struck by how PM Lee “never showed any bitterness or rancour towards his siblings”.
“Rather, all that he expressed were feelings of sorrow and sadness that matters had come to such a point,” Jayakumar wrote.
Still, for unknown reasons, PM Lee has not been inviting his siblings to his Chinese New Year family reunion dinners for years. In July 2017, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling released a joint statement saying, “First Chinese New Year reunion after our father’s death, our brother invited all relatives except us.”
Neither were they invited this year, as confirmed by Hsien Yang and Wei Ling to TOC (‘PM Lee not inviting siblings to CNY reunion dinner again this year‘, 23 Jan 2020)
“The camel (WP) has gotten its nose into the PAP tent”
Jayakumar also revealed in his book that he contacted a certain Cabinet minister several days after GE 2020. This was after PAP saw its vote share dropped to 61.2 per cent, and the Workers’ Part (WP) managed to capture 2 GRCs this time.
“A few days after GE 2020, on 15 July 2020, I emailed this view to a Cabinet minister: ‘We should not be beguiled by WP’s stance that they only want to check the Government. This time their line was to prevent a clean sweep of all seats,” he wrote.
“At the next GE – their aim will be to prevent PAP having a two-thirds majority. Further down the road, we should not rule out them (in concert with other opposition parties) trying to prevent PAP winning a majority of seats. They will do so if they have enough winnable candidates.”
“As I see it, the camel has gotten its nose into the PAP tent. It will want to occupy the whole tent in 2, 3 or 4 elections down the road.'”
Jayakumar warned in his book that a “revolving door” system, in which one party competes constantly against an opposition party, or a coalition of such parties, would be a weak and populist government, and urged Singaporeans to reflect on what they want for the future.
Jayakumar’s book is now available for S$35 (including GST) at major book shops.