Ho Ching Could’ve Been A Minister Before She Married PM Lee: ESM Goh Chok Tong

ESM Goh Asked Ho Ching To Join Politics But She Said “Not Now”

We all know that Mdm Ho Ching is Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong’s wife and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Temasek Holdings.

Two very powerful titles, but what else is there to her?

She’s such a silent figure that we’ve barely heard her speaking to the public. But we do know that she’s extremely active on Facebook.

One place she’s not active in is politics, but that could’ve been different had ESM Goh managed to convince her to become a minister.

Wait, what? When did ESM Goh approach her? And why didn’t she accept his invitation?

Here’s the answer to all your burning questions.

She was starting out at MINDEF and didn’t feel ready

In his book Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, ESM Goh wrote of how Mdm Ho Ching was probably in her late 20s when he asked her if she would be interested in politics.

We’re guessing it was somewhere between 1982 and 1985, after she graduated from Stanford University and before she married PM Lee.

Mdm Ho Ching was just starting out at the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) then but ESM Goh noticed that “she had the intellect and attributes we were looking for”.


Of course she did. She was a President’s Scholar who had a Master of Science (Electrical Engineering) degree from Stanford.

She didn’t say no, but “not at this stage”. ESM Goh went on to become our first Deputy Prime Minister in 1985 and Prime Minister from 1990 to 2004.

In that time, a rising politician and fellow President’s Scholar also noticed Mdm Ho Ching and the rest as they say is history.


Her ties with the Lee family may have played a part

Ho Ching may have KIV-ed ESM Goh’s invitation but fate may have pushed aside her chances to join the government.

Her marriage to PM Lee meant that it was best for her to stay away from politics to prevent conflicts of interests.


Even ESM Goh knew the risks of Ho Ching entering politics at that time:

As she was part of the Lee family, I never approached her again. I would not have asked her to be a politician. Hsien Loong would be against it. She would be against it. And Singapore would be against it.

Though Mdm Ho missed her window, she continued to flourish outside of politics, proving that she was more than just PM Lee’s wife.

Here’s a list of her career milestones just before and after marrying PM Lee:

  • 1983 — Director, Defence Material Organisation
    Deputy Director, Defence Science Organisation
  • 1987 — Deputy Director of Engineering, Singapore Technologies
  • 1997 — President and CEO, Singapore Technologies
    Chairman, Singapore Technologies Engineering
  • 2002 — Executive Director, Temasek Holdings
  • 2004 — CEO, Temasek Holdings
  • 2017 — #28 on Forbes’ Power Women list

Some of us can only dream of holding such high ranks. This is a lady who shows that you can be influential without holding political office.

Minister Ho Ching?

As per ESM Goh’s statement, we can see why Singaporeans would be against Ho Ching as a minister.

A family too involved in politics could cause controversy. Case in point, the Oxley Road saga.

Besides, Mdm Ho’s tenure as CEO in Temasek Holdings involved navigating troubled times when Temasek lost S$58 billion in assets between March and November 2008.


Temasek Holdings invests in high-profile companies like Singapore Airlines, SMRT, Singtel and Mediacorp.

The losses affected major businesses and trickled down to Singaporeans too, which could explain why many aren’t fans of the idea of her joining a ministry.

Add that to the fact that she’s PM Lee’s wife and the odds are certainly not in her favour.

What Singaporeans think

We already know that ESM Goh thought highly of Mdm Ho Ching. If it wasn’t already clear, he also quipped,

She would have made a good minister, a different kind of minister.

But do Singaporeans agree with him?

Yahoo News Singapore conducted a poll to get answers and at the time of writing, 83% of 4200 voters answered ‘No’.


Of course, they could be trolling on the Internet, like some of the comments we’ve found on a few social sites.


Ho my goodness, Singaporeans are actually good at wordplay.

They’re good at riding on viral topics too, making references to ESM Goh’s book being found in the fiction section at a Popular bookstore.


Whether what ESM Goh said was true or not doesn’t really matter since Mdm Ho Ching has never expressed intention to join politics.

But if she ever does pull a Hillary Clinton, will Singaporeans still be against it? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Featured image from Ho Ching’s Facebook and MParader’s Facebook.

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