First family feud mesmerizes Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's younger siblings claim the premier has abused his power and failed to execute their late national founder father's last wishes
The late Singapore premier Lee Kuan Yew might have been repulsed by the idea of his home being turned into a monument for strangers to traipse through. But perhaps even he could never have imagined the public spectacle that has had Singaporeans agog as a feud between his three children plays out on social media platform Facebook.
While the heart of the dispute appears to be over the handling of the deceased former premier’s estate at 38 Oxley Road, comments made by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang about their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong, have now gone way beyond a family’s squabbles over property management.
“If it were merely a family affair, we would not have taken it public,” Lee Wei Ling, the premier’s sister and senior advisor at the National Neuroscience Institute, wrote this week in a Facebook post.
“The main message is not Hsien Yang & I fearing what PM will do to us. The most important point I want to put across is if PM can misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens,” she wrote.
She added: “Hsien Loong and Ho Ching (the prime minister’s wife) are finally showing their true colors. I think these Colors show them unsuitable as PM and most certainly as PM’s wife of Singapore.”
In an interview with Yahoo! Singapore, Lee Hsien Yang, chairman of Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority and former chief executive of Singtel telecoms group, briefly elaborated on the siblings’ claims of feeling threatened and targeted by “organs of the state.”
He said that some of his friends had faced “serious repercussions,” adding: “They don’t want to be identified and they don’t want the issue to be raised. But there have been… a number of incidents which have caused hurt and pain to people.”
While Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang are determined to eventually demolish the house in accordance with their father’s will, they claim that their elder brother, Lee Hsien Loong, is less sincere in his desire to uphold his father’s last wishes.
In a lengthy public statement released on Wednesday, the two claimed that Lee Hsien Loong and Ho Ching have a “desire to inherit Lee Kuan Yew’s standing and reputation for themselves and their children”, and that the current prime minister is therefore interested in preserving the house to “enhance his political capital.”
The younger siblings have also accused their brother of dishonesty, expressing unhappiness at the convening of a ministerial committee to consider potential options for 38 Oxley Road, despite having said that there was no need for the government to reach any decision regarding the house while his sister was still residing in it.
Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong said in a statement on Wednesday stated that there was no intention to do anything with the house at the present moment, and that the committee would simply be “listing out the different options with regard to the House and the implications” to help a future government make a decision when the time comes.
He also asserted that the prime minister was not involved in the committee’s discussions.
That did little to mollify Lee’s siblings, however. “We have no confidence in Lee Hsien Loong or his secret committee,” Lee Hsien Yang, who sits on the board of United Kingdom engineering group Rolls Royce and Australia’s ANZ Bank, wrote in a Facebook post.
Lee Hsien Loong, forced to respond to the onslaught of public allegations from his siblings while on leave outside the country, on Thursday released a summary of the statutory declarations made to the ministerial committee regarding his concerns over his father’s last will.
“I had hoped that I could defer considering this matter further until after I return from leave. But my siblings have continued to give interviews and make allegations against me,” he wrote.
“This makes it untenable for me not to respond publicly to the allegations and to explain why I have serious questions about how my father’s Last Will (sic) was prepared.”
Lee Hsien Loong’s published summary and subsequent posts by Lee Wei Ling have provided a rare glimpse into the quarrels of Singapore’s most powerful family, revealing unhappiness over the drafting and handling of the late statesman’s wills, including the last will with the clause asking for the demolition of the house at 38 Oxley Road.
Emails released by Lee Wei Ling in a Facebook post showed communication between Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Lee Suet Fern, and Lee Kuan Yew, as well as Minister for Law K Shanmugam, discussing the apportioning of inheritance among the siblings and mentioning a “cold war” between Lee Wei Ling and her father over the issue.
Even younger members of the Lee family have weighed in. “In the last few years, my immediate family has become increasingly worried about the lack of checks on abuse of power,” wrote Lee Hsien Yang’s son Li Shengwu on Wednesday, linking to his father and aunt’s public statement.
“The situation is now such that my parents have made plans to relocate to another country, a painful decision that they have not made lightly.”
Lee Hsien Loong’s son, Li Hongyi, a consultant with a government agency, also made a short comment in response to his aunt and uncle’s claim that his parents had political ambitions for him. “For what it is worth, I really have no interest in politics,” he wrote.
Li Shengwu, Lee Hsien Yang’s son, countered on Facebook: “Not only do I intend never to go into politics, I believe that it would be bad for Singapore if any third-generation Lee went into politics. The country must be bigger than one family.”
“We are going to learn whether (as I hope) the ruling party is still full of men and women of quality and strong character, or whether ‘it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!'” he wrote in the post.
While Lee Hsien Loong holds the top spot in Singapore’s politics, his wife Ho Ching is the chief executive officer of national wealth fund Temasek Holdings, which manages an estimated US$180 billion portfolio of assets.
The saga, widely reported in the international press and more timidly covered in local mainstream media, has been closely followed by Singaporeans fascinated by the sight of the ordinarily closed-off political elite venting so openly on a social media platform – and by the prospect of what might happen next.