Lee family feud in Singapore
Dueling public statements between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings have brought ruling family discord into a glaring public light
Singaporeans awoke on Wednesday morning to the latest and most public installment of a family feud between the children of the island state’s national founder and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in 2015.
In a long public statement entitled “What Has Happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s Values?”, uploaded to Google Drive and posted on their Facebook pages, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang said that they had lost trust and confidence in their brother – Singapore’s current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – and accused him of misusing his power and position “to drive his personal agenda.”
“We feel big brother omnipresent. We fear the use of the organs of state against us and Hsien Yang’s wife, Suet Fern,” they wrote, revealing that Lee Hsien Yang has since decided to leave the country.
They added: “If Hsien Loong is prepared to act thus against us, his younger sister and brother, both contributing members of Singapore’s establishment, to advance his personal agenda, we worry for Singapore. We question whether able leaders with independent political legitimacy will be side-lined to ensure Hsien Loong’s grip on power remains unchallenged.”
At the heart of the conflict, as expressed in the siblings’ statement, is a disagreement over the handling of the late statesman’s home at 38 Oxley Road. It’s well-known that it was Lee Kuan Yew’s wish that the house be demolished, and “not be kept as a kind of relic.”
Upon his death, an occasion where Singaporeans came out en masse to express their condolences, an excerpt of his will was made public that expressed his desire for the house to be demolished as soon as his daughter Lee Wei Ling vacates it.
Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged this wish in a speech to Parliament on April 13, 2015, stating that although he would like to see his father’s wishes carried out, the matter would be up for the government’s consideration.
His two younger siblings are now accusing him of opposing his father’s wishes to boost his own political capital. They claim that Lee Hsien Loong continues to wield influence over a ministerial committee set up to look into the matter despite promising to recuse himself from the proceedings.
“The simple truth is that Hsien Loong’s current popularity is tied to Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. Preserving Lee Kuan Yew’s house would allow Hsien Loong and his family to inherit a tangible monument to Lee Kuan Yew’s authority,” said the statement, which also claimed that premier Lee and his wife, Ho Ching, also “harbor political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi.”
Public spats among the political elite of Singapore are rare in the controlled city-state, where political machinations are kept behind closed doors and out of a largely compliant mainstream media.
But since her father’s passing, Lee Wei Ling has occasionally expressed dissatisfaction with her elder brother. The latest show of discord among the Lee family has also grabbed Singaporeans’ attention; as of the time of writing, the statement had been shared over 10,000 times from Lee Wei Ling’s Facebook page alone.
Lee Hsien Loong, who is on holiday with his family this week, posted a short response on his own Facebook page. In it, he expressed his disappointment with his siblings’ decision to make the dispute public.
“While siblings may have differences, I believe that any such differences should stay in the family. Since my father’s passing in March 2015, as the eldest son I have tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family, out of respect for our parents. My siblings’ statement has hurt our father’s legacy,” he wrote.
He especially refuted his siblings’ allegation about his political ambitions for his son; a touchy topic in a country that claims a strict adherence to meritocracy.
The Lee family themselves have not shied away from legal action to clamp down on suggestions of nepotism: Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong had previously won damages and costs against the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times for referring to Singapore as a political dynasty.
But this isn’t the first time his sister has made such accusations. She questioned the commemoration of her father’s death last year, alleging that her brother – who she referred to as a “dishonorable son” – was capitalizing on it to “establish a dynasty.”
She has also occasionally criticized her brother’s administration, saying that the “current government is distinctly different from the government when [Lee Kuan Yew] was [Prime Minister] and subsequently [Senior Minister],” without elaborating in detail on why or how.