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Goh Chok Tong

Goh Chok Tong was formally sworn in as the second prime minister of Singapore on 28 November 1990. He took over the post from Lee Kuan Yew, who had served as the first prime minister of Singapore since June 1959.

Goh, the eldest of four siblings, was born in Singapore on 20 May 1941 to Hokkien parents Goh Kah Choon and Quah Kwee Hwa. Gohs father passed away when he was nine years old, leaving his mother to support the family on her own as a Chinese schoolteacher. With their mother busy at work, Goh and his siblings were largely raised by their grandmother, an uncle and an aunt.

After completing his primary education at a neighbourhood school in Pasir Panjang in 1954, Goh went on to study at the Raffles Institution. It was during this period that Goh started to exhibit leadership qualities: He was a troop leader in the Boy Scouts, vice-head prefect, editor of the school magazine, as well as captain of the schools swimming team. In 1961, Goh began his undergraduate studies at the University of Singapore (since renamed National University of Singapore) on a government scholarship. He did well enough in his first year of studies to qualify for direct honors in all three subjects he took English, economics and geography.

Prior to becoming prime minister, Goh held numerous appointments in the government. He was Senior Minister of State for Finance from September 1977 to March 1979 before serving as Minister for Trade and Industry until January 1981. Thereafter, Goh held the portfolios of Trade and Industry, Health as well as Defence until he was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence in January 1985.

He became prime minister in November 1990 and also held the concurrent post of Minister for Defence. Besides these appointments, Goh has been the member of parliament for Marine Parade constituency (later reconstituted as Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency or GRC in 1988) since 1976.

Gohs swearing-in ceremony was held at the same City Hall chamber where Lee was sworn in as prime minister in 1959. During the ceremony, Goh took his oath as prime minister and received the scroll of appointment from then President Wee Kim Wee. This was followed by the swearing in of the rest of his cabinet members beginning with Lee who was sworn in to his new appointment as Senior Minister. Goh then gave a speech during which he paid tribute to Lee before promising to rally the country to run the next lap together.

The appointment of Goh as prime minister was part of the leadership renewal process envisaged by the ruling Peoples Action Party (PAP) shortly after the 1984 parliamentary general election. The aim of the renewal process was to replace the first generation leaders or the old guard, who had been leading Singapore under the stewardship of Lee Kuan Yew, with a new generation of leaders. Comprising people like Lee Hsien Loong, this group of second generation leaders was younger and thus in a better position to engage the more educated and vocal younger Singaporeans.

Indeed, Singapore under Gohs leadership was different compared with that under Lee. Goh heralded in a more consultative style of government and politics. Goh frequently used public committees (consisting of representatives from the private sector, academia, and government) to review government policies and identify new options.

Gohs more relaxed and affable personality combined with the setting up of consultative units such as the Feedback Unit in March 1985 and the Institute of Policy Studies in December 1987 gave the impression that there was indeed a softening of government rule during his tenure as PM.14 However, Gohs critics saw the introduction of the Nominated Member of Parliament scheme in 1990 as an attempt to entrench PAP rule.15 There were also limits to Gohs consultative approach, as out-of-bounds markers were established in the realm of political participation. This was apparent when Goh gave a strongly worded response to writer Catherine Lims newspaper articles pertaining to what she saw as a great affective divide between the government and the people and a return to a more authoritative style of governance.

He was credited for setting up Community Development Councils (CDCs) and Government Parliamentary Committees, as well as introducing Edusave, Medifund and the Nominated Member of Parliament scheme. Economically, Goh continued Singapores stellar growth. The countrys gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increased from S$21,950 in 1990 to S$38,023 in 2003. On the political front, Goh led the PAP to victory in the 1991, 1997 and 2001 parliamentary general elections.

During his time as minister for defence, Goh oversaw the development of the Singapore Armed Forces into the most sophisticated and technologically advanced military force in the region. The development of Singapores defence capabilities continued during his PM years.

Goh served as prime minister for 14 years before he handed over the reins of government to Lee Hsien Loong, who was sworn in as the third prime minister of Singapore on 12 August 2004. After the 2011 general election, Goh, along with then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, announced that they would leave the cabinet to allow PM Lee Hsien Loong and his new cabinet to start on a fresh clean slate. Goh was subsequently given the honorary title of Emeritus Senior Minister.

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Page last modified: 23-03-2015 18:28:29 ZULU