When Goh was chosen prime minister, it was widely believed that he would bring a new leadership style. The former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was authoritarian in his vengeful pursuit of prominent political opponents. He tolerated little dissent as he practiced a strict form of social engineering. In contrast, Goh had a reputation for seeking consensus and hearing other opinions. Once in office, however, his leadership style has not marked a major transition from that of Lee.
In August 1991, Goh called a general election two years before it was required, as a way of consolidating his position. Although PAP won handily, with 61% of the total, the result was considered a boost to opposition parties. The PAP's percentage of the total vote had fallen for the third straight election, and the opposition had increased its number of seats to a 25-year high.
Goh was determined to reverse that pattern when he called the 1997 election. His reelection was certain; opposition parties repeated their 1991 strategy of contesting fewer than half the seats in Parliament. This encouraged people to cast a "protest" vote for the opposition by removing any concern that the PAP might actually be defeated. Goh countered that through reforms and redistricting, which tied PAP members more closely to local politics and made it easier to see which neighborhoods had voted for opposition parties. He then made it clear that neighborhoods with high vote totals for opposition parties would be the last to receive government upgrades for housing projects. Goh was an energetic force during the campaign, focusing attention on two electoral districts with high opposition support. The results—an increase in the PAP's percentage of the vote total and the recapturing of seats lost in previous elections—marked a major victory for Goh.
The PAP under Goh is decidedly intolerant of opposition politicians, or foreign publications, whom it feels have overstepped the bounds of reasonable dissent. A favorite tool for striking back is the lawsuit; several opposition leaders and international newspapers have been successfully sued for libel. After the 1997 election, PAP leaders filed 21 lawsuits against two members of the WP, mainly based on comments made during the campaign. One of the two fled to Malaysia and the court ordered him to put us$11 million in escrow.
Goh is a champion of "Asian values" and criticizes the West for its abandonment of family values. He complains about the treatment of Singapore by the Western media, arguing that they attempt to influence domestic politics and are culturally insensitive. He claims that the 1997 PAP victory proved that Singapore had "rejected Western-style liberal democracy and freedoms, putting individual rights over that of society." He defends Singapore's style of governance and argues that the Western media focuses too much attention on restrictions to information rather than emphasizing those information sources which remain available.
One reason that leadership styles have not changed may be that Lee Kuan Yew is still an active and influential voice. He has remained a senior minister without portfolio ever since stepping down from the top post, and his public statements carry great weight. Since Goh had been involved in the Lee government for several years, it is not surprising that few major policy or stylistic changes would occur when he took over as prime minister. Another factor is the PAP's fear that younger generations will forget how they achieved their current level of prosperity and thus will undermine the foundations of that success. Aware of this, Goh seems determined not to make any major break with past approaches to governance.