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Singapore election

Singapore ruling party loses ex-PM Goh Chok Tong to retirement

At 79, veteran steps aside 'with heavy heart' weeks before election

SINGAPORE -- Goh Chok Tong, who led Singapore as prime minister from 1990 to 2004, announced on Thursday that he will not run in the general election on July 10, as the ruling party bets heavily on a transition to younger politicians.

Goh posted a letter to the man who succeeded him, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, on Facebook, in which he said he made the decision to step aside "with a heavy heart" and after much consideration.

"Similarly, I prefer to retire as Member of Parliament now whilst I am healthy and able to ease my successor's transition into Marine Parade," the 79-year-old added.

Marine Parade is Goh's electoral constituency, which he has represented for over 40 years. He said he recommended his party colleague, Tan See Leng, to take over there.

Tan, a former managing director and CEO of hospital operator IHH Healthcare, is an aspiring politician set to run for the ruling People's Action Party in the upcoming polls.

Prime Minister Lee responded to Goh's resignation with a letter of his own, accepting the decision "with sadness."

"The story of Marine Parade is the story of Singapore -- out of nothing, we created something special. You made that happen," Lee wrote to Goh.

Goh took the reins of government from modern Singapore's founder and the current prime minister's father, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015. Many credit the city-state's second premier with introducing a "consultative" style of governance, in contrast with the late Lee's approach, which some criticized as authoritarian.

Goh was prime minister when Singapore Airlines Flight 117 was hijacked by four Pakistani terrorists in 1991. The hijackers were all killed at Changi Airport by the country's own special operations commandos, in what was hailed as a stunning victory for Singapore against hostile forces.

Lee praised Goh for guiding Singapore through other crises, too, including the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998 and the SARS outbreak in 2003.

In leaving politics, Goh stressed the nation needs "competent and trusted leaders with the heart for public service" to advance the interests of Singaporeans. He offered support for Lee's leadership succession plan, saying the team led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat -- widely believed to be next in line for the prime minister's job -- has been "tested and strengthened" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Many have urged me to stand for another term," Goh wrote. "But I should not. I would not have the same energy when I cross into my 80s."

Nevertheless, he vowed not to disappear from public life. "This is au revoir, not adieu. I will continue to contribute to Marine Parade and Singapore in other ways."

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