Singapore’s former prime minister and currrent Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong doesn’t want to be the United Nations secretary general. Singapore’s first prime minister and current Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, whose son Lee Hsien Loong is now Prime Minister, said this when he met foreign correspondents based in Singapore on Friday, reported The Straits Times.
He was asked: “Rumours have it that Senior Minister Goh Chok is considering taking up the post of the United Nations secretary general. Would you support him?”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew replied: “I think you’ve got to ask him that. All I know is that he is not interested in the job. Answering to five masters and often unable to satisfy two or three at any one time… it is a tough job.
“From what I’ve understood from him, I think it’s not a job that would add to his happy years after office.”
I would certainly love to see Mr Goh take the job — either Mr Goh or the Indian Shashi Tharoor, UN under-secretary general for communications and public information.
Mr Tharoor was a prodigy. As a schoolboy, he wrote a wonderful spoof of James Bond which was serialised in the now defunct Junior Statesman, a youth magazine published by The Statesman newspaper in Calcutta.
But I admire Mr Goh just as much. He was an excellent prime minister, steering Singapore through the 1997 Asian economic crisis and back on the road to recovery. He more than anyone else helped build the close ties that exist between Singapore and India today. In the 1990s, when everyone else was rushing to invest in China, he had the vision to see India would rise too and built a close partnership. For this he was honoured as the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in 1994 by the then Indian prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. In January this year, he addressed Indian business leaders at the Confederation of Indian Industry summit in Calcutta (Kolkata).
Mr Goh also has the common touch. He knows how to talk to the people. He was a popular prime minister. He liberalised some of the rules, prompting a Western media buzz about a “swinging Singapore”. Opposition parties, contesting parliamentary elections which will be held on May 6, maintain political liberalisation has not gone far enough. Singapore ranked 147th in the 2005 Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders which looked at 167 countries. But Singapore has questioned the rankings. People do speak up. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was asked recently by a young journalist on television if he has thought of leaving the Cabinet.
Mr Tharoor seems a long shot to succeed Mr Kofi Annan as the UN secretary general. After all, he is from India and the secretary general normally doesn’t come from a major or a growing power. India also has border disputes with Pakistan and China, which may rule it out from the succession race. India, I am sure, is more keen on becoming a permanent UN Security Council member than having an Indian UN secretary general.
There are other candidates for the job. Worldpress org in March this year said the candidates include:
Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Polish president; Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvian president; Kemal Dervis, Turkey, currently head of the U.N. Development Program; Surakiart Sathirathai, Thailand’s deputy prime minister; Shashi Tharoor, India, U.N. undersecretary-general for Communications and Public Information and an award-winning journalist/novelist; Ban Ki Moon, South Korea’s foreign minister; Jose Ramos-Horta, foreign minister of East Timor and a 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Jayantha Dhanapala, Sri Lanka, served as U.N. undersecretary general for disarmament and as ambassador to the United States; Goh Chok Tong, former prime minister of Singapore; and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordanian ambassador to the U.N.
Mr Goh is “not interested in the job”, said Mr Lee Kuan Yew. But he could make a difference as UN secretary general. Mr Kofi Annan’s views do count because he heads the UN.
I am reminded of the only Indian, Mr BK Nehru, who had a chance to be UN secretary general.
Mr Nehru, who died in 2001, served as high commissioner to Britain and ambassador to the US and was a popular diplomat.
His name came up when the Swedish UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash in 1961.
But his candidature was blocked apparently by a fellow Indian.
In his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Second, he blamed the late Mr VK Krishna Menon, who was India’s UN representative. He wanted to be secretary general himself, it was said. But his anti-Americanism made him unacceptable to the US. And so the job went to Mr U Thant from Burma who served as UN secretary general from 1961 to 1971.
Mr Krishna Menon, who was also minister of defence, was a leftist and supported China — and paid for it. He was sacked for India’s military unpreparedness following the 1962 border war with China.
Mr Nehru regretted he never became UN secretary general. AG Noorani reviewing the famous Indian mandarin PC Alexander’s memoirs Through The Corridors of Power: An Insider’s Story, wrote in the Indian magazine Frontline in 2004:
“The post of Secretary-General of the U.N. seemed his for the asking. Even John F. Kennedy told him “it seems we would lose you.” It would have added to Indira’s prestige. But V.K. Krishna Menon exerted himself to block the candidature. All B.K. Nehru had to do was to pick up the phone and call Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But he was too proud to do that; too proud and too decent to complain about it to the press either. The record is set out in his memoirs, in impeccable taste.”