- Tall Order
- Standing Tall
- About the Author
Goh Chok Tong was an improbable Prime Minister for an unlikely country. He had neither the connections nor the cunning to rise to the top, and was even once famously derided by his mentor Lee Kuan Yew for being "wooden" in his communication skills. Except for an imposing height most unusual in this part of the world, he was an ordinary man. He lost his father at a young age, lived in a two-bedroom public flat with his mother and four siblings and needed a government bursary to complete university.
Yet somehow he succeeded. Tall Order tells the extraordinary story of his life and career over half a century, revealing how Singapore's second Prime Minister rose through a combination of strength, wit and a political nous which many, including himself, did not know he had. In this first of two volumes, Goh navigated years of a challenging apprenticeship to Lee, scoring numerous policy successes but also suffering political blows and humiliation.
He was the man who first made Neptune Orient Lines, Singapore's national carrier, profitable, before entering politics. The stellar corporate stint was followed by his many novel policies and institutions that have since become household names in the country: Medisave, Total Defence, Residents' Committee and Nominated Member of Parliament. But the highlights were counterposed by setbacks, including overseeing the People's Action Party's first electoral defeat after independence at the Anson by-election.
In the hands of acclaimed author and journalist Peh Shing Huei, this authorised biography reveals the private deliberations and negotiations between Goh and Lee before the maiden leadership transfer of independent Singapore. Tall Order is the first biography of Goh. This riveting book offers rare insights into Singapore's biggest and most important political and economic stories.
Some did not expect him to last long as Prime Minister. Few predicted he would succeed in the footsteps of Lee Kuan Yew. When Goh Chok Tong took over as the second Prime Minister of Singapore in 1990, many — from within and without the country — wondered aloud if the young country would survive Lee Kuan Yew.
But Goh would confound the naysayers, leading Singapore for 14 years through recessions, terrorist attacks, electoral setbacks and even a mysterious virus. Standing Tall captures the transformation of a political leader, evolving from a Prime Minister with a touch of naivety to a hard-nosed strategist. He would introduce some of the country's most controversial policies, including the foreign talent scheme and formula for ministerial salaries, while advancing a kinder and gentler Singapore with the likes of MediFund and Edusave.
The unchartered post-Cold War world which Goh stepped into posed challenges to the new leader, yet he not only cemented but also expanded Singapore's global space and stature. Along the way, he overcame hurdles from Bill Clinton's administration, exchanged quips with Nelson Mandela, and even saved Li Peng from a possibly severe heart attack.
Through interviews and access to People's Action Party documents and Goh's notes, this authorised biography uncovers rare insights into Singapore politics. Standing Tall tells the untold story of the Goh Chok Tong years, as he continues with Singapore's transformation into a global city.
Peh Shing Huei is a Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of several books, including the No. 1 bestseller Neither Civil Nor Servant: The Philip Yeo Story. He is a founding partner of content agency The Nutgraf, and former news editor and China bureau chief at The Straits Times.
Other books written and co-written by the author: Dream Island: The Mad, Mad World of Philip Yeo; Panjang; Project 0812: The Inside Story of Singapore's Journey to Olympic Glory; Rings of Stars and Crescent: 70 Years of the Olympic Movement in Singapore; When the Party Ends: China's Leaps and Stumbles after the Beijing Olympics; Struck by Lightning: Singaporean Voices Post-1965.