‘Rare Political Excitement’ in Singapore as Rift in Prime Minister's Family Erupts Online

‘Rare Political Excitement’ in Singapore as Rift in Prime Minister's Family Erupts Online
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'We feel big brother omnipresent. We fear the use of the organs of state against us.'

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Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, the younger siblings of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, issued a joint statement today accusing the prime minister of misusing his position and influence over the Singapore government to “drive his personal agenda.”

The three siblings are the children of Singapore’s revered founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who served as prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the prime minister's siblings said that since Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March 2015, they have felt “threatened by Hsien Loong’s misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda.”

“We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government,” write Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.

“This is by no means a criticism of the Government of Singapore. We see many upright leaders of quality and integrity throughout the public service, but they are constrained by Hsien Loong’s misuse of power at the very top. We do not trust Hsien Loong and have lost confidence in him.”

Lee Hsien Yang says he decided to leave Singapore amid the “fear of the use of the organs of state against us and Hsien Yang’s wife, Suet Fern,” according to the statement.

The prime minister, who is out of the country at present, issued a response to the statement denying the allegations and stating his disappointment at his siblings’ decision to publicize a private family matter. Lee Hsien Loong said the claim he harbored political ambitions for his son was “absurd.”

“My siblings’ statement has hurt our father’s legacy,” he said, adding he would continue to serve Singaporeans to the best of his abilities and upholding meritocracy.

Political theater

The public nature of the family spat appears to be gaining widespread attention in Singapore.

“This is a rare bit of political excitement for us, because the inner workings of the political elite and the Lee family are often so opaque,” says Singaporean freelance journalist and social activist Kirsten Han.

She notes that the link to the statement on Lee Wei Ling's Facebook post alone has been shared more than 10,000 times.

“Since Lee Kuan Yew’s death, Lee Wei Ling has occasionally let loose on her brother on Facebook so we know that there's some unhappiness there but this public statement is a very public demonstration and evidence of the rift in the family,” Han says.

When Singapore’s parliament passed a controversial new contempt of court law in August 2016, Lee Wei Ling called the bill an attempt to muzzle public opinion, later reminding Singaporeans that “the current government was voted in by Singaporeans. If it does not act for the welfare of Singaporeans, it can be voted out.”

Milking the founding father’s legacy

The two younger siblings claim that Lee Hsien Loong has been attempting to bolster his power and popularity by “milking Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy,” and that Lee Hsien Loong and his wife harbor political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi.

They cite Lee Hsien Loong’s opposition to the demolition their father’s house at 38 Oxley Road as an example of Lee Hsien Loong’s misuse of power. The two younger children are the joint executors of his Lee Kuan Yew’s will in which he states his wish to see his home demolished upon his passing.

Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang write that as Lee Hsien Loong’s popularity is tied to the legacy of their father, preserving or moving into Lee Kuan Yew’s house would allow Lee Hsien Loong to “inherit a tangible monument to Lee Kuan Yew’s authority.” Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching consistently opposed their father’s wish to have the house demolished even while he was alive. After the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the current prime minister used his power to prevent his younger siblings from publicizing their father’s will in a public exhibition.

Lee Hsien Loong has also used his position to influence the Ministerial Committee which was set up to decide the fate of 38 Oxley Road, despite agreeing to recuse himself on all matters relating to the house, according to the statement.

The prime minister’s younger siblings go on to write that they have nothing to gain from the demolition of 38 Oxley Road, other than the knowledge that they had carried out their father’s wishes. “Hsien Loong has everything to gain from preserving 38 Oxley Road – he need only ignore his father’s will and values.”

Singapore is ranked as “partly free” by Freedom House. The human rights organization noted in 2015 the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) had “increased its efforts to suppress independent voices, especially those who question or criticize the regime online.”

Editor: Edward White