Lee Kuan Yew told me to take lessons from Machiavelli's 'The Prince': Goh Chok Tong

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Goh Chok Tong (right) with Lee Kuan Yew on 26 December 1996 during a PAP rally ahead of the 1997 election. (File photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP)

In response to Goh Chok Tong adopting the signature phrase “kinder and gentler” in 1988, the late Lee Kuan Yew presented the former with a copy of the seminal political text The Prince – and urged him to absorb its lessons.

In the first volume of his newly-released memoirs entitled Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, Goh, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, revealed that Lee had felt the phrase telegraphed “softness” and “weakness”.

Instead, Lee urged the younger man to subscribe to the tenets of the 16th century text by Niccolo Machiavelli: namely, that it is always better for those who govern to be feared rather than loved.

But the man who had been designated as Lee’s successor – and who described him as “my mentor, master and teacher” – took a read and decided he did not like the Machiavellian approach.

“I never told him I didn’t agree with this way of governing,” said Goh, who was Singapore’s Prime Minister from 1990 to 2004. “I just did the things I believed in. If I told him, he would say ‘no, no, you better follow me’. And we would clash.”

In the book, Goh’s voice and speech coach Sue Greenwood also recalled Goh telling her, “He said ‘Lee Kuan Yew does not have the time to deal with people he has written off. But I want to do it my way. I don’t want to hurt people’.”

These are some of the revelations in the 280-page Tall Order, penned by former Straits Times journalist Peh Shing Huei and published by World Scientific Press. It tells the story of Goh’s life and career until he succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister in 1990.

Tall Order will be officially launched next Thursday, 8 November. Yahoo News Singapore‘s review of the book will be released on the same day.

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