Singapore Prime Minister denounced by siblings

Singaporean leader Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings have launched a stunning public broadside against their elder brother, accusing him of misusing his power and influence over government to drive a personal agenda.

At the heart of Lee’s brother and sister’s extraordinary public statement, released Wednesday, is the issue of the disposal of their late father Lee Kuan Yew’s home in central Singapore.

In the statement, Lee’s sister, Lee Wei Ling, and his brother, Lee Hsien Yang, claim the prime minister “deliberately misrepresented” his father’s wishes for his home to be demolished in order to gain political mileage.

They claim the prime minister and his wife oppose the demolition because preserving the home would enhance his political capital.

Lee Kuan Yew, who is credited with turning Singapore from a resource-poor colonial trading post into one of the world’s most successful economies, died in 2015. He served as the country’s leader from 1959 to 1990.

Wei Ling and Hsien Yang also took aim at Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, accusing her of having “pervasive influence” despite holding no elected or official position in government, adding they suspect the couple of milking Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy and harboring political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi.

Lee Hsien Loong is currently overseas on holiday with his family. He posted a short statement on his Facebook account, saying he was “disappointed” his siblings had chosen to attack him publicly.

“I am very disappointed that my siblings have chosen to issue a statement publicizing private family matters. I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations that they have made.

“Ho Ching and I deny these allegations, especially the absurd claim that I have political ambitions for my son.”

His response says the statement from his younger brother and sister “has hurt our father’s legacy,” and that he would “continue serving Singaporeans honestly” to the best of his ability.

The prime minister said he would address the issue more fully on his return.

Fears of repercussions

Lee’s siblings, in their statement, also claimed Hsien Yang will be leaving Singapore as they feared “the use of state organs” against them and Hsien Yang’s wife.

“Singapore is and remains my country,” Hsien Yang said in the joint statement. “I have no desire to leave. Hsien Loong is the only reason for my departure.”

It is the second time in as many years that the family has feuded publicly — the two younger children also accused the prime minister of abusing his power in 2016, in the run-up to the first anniversary of their father’s death.

Southeast Asian dynasty

The younger siblings say their brother’s path was smoothed by the family’s patriarch, and founder of the city-state, who is revered in Singapore.

The Lee family looms large over Singapore’s establishment, and the internal strife, while not unknown, will come as a shock due to the public manner in which it has been aired. The authoritarian city-state, which won its independence from Malaysia in the 1960s, has very strict laws regarding free speech and the media.

While the elder Lee was lauded for his economic accomplishments, he also created a Singapore bound by stringent laws and regulations that dictated most, if not all, aspects of society — including media and political freedoms, censorship and even the selling of chewing gum.

The younger Lee became the country’s third prime minister in 2004 and most recently won reelection by a landslide in 2015.

“Nobody ever doubted that Lee Kuan Yew always held the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart. He was authentic and spoke his mind. The same cannot be said for our brother, Lee Hsien Loong and his wife, Ho Ching,” the joint statement reads.

“We believe, unfortunately, that Hsien Loong is driven by a desire for power and personal popularity. His popularity is inextricably linked to Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy.”

The home at the center of the fight

Lee Kuan Yew’s 38 Oxley Road home, is a pre-war bungalow the country’s founding father had lived in since the 1940s. In his will, the elder Lee had asked for the building to be demolished immediately after his death, or if his daughter, Wei Ling, preferred to live in it, after she moved out.

All three of Lee’s children publicly issued a statement in 2015, saying they hoped the state would honor their father’s wishes. Lee Hsien Loong also said he would recuse himself from all government decisions involving the home. An online survey that same year found that a majority of the Singaporeans polled supported the demolition of the house.

However, in Wednesday’s statement, Wei Ling and Hsien Yang claimed the prime minister and his wife are behind what is represented as government initiatives to preserve the house.

They further alleged Hsien Loong threatened them and demanded their silence over their father’s wishes “hoping to inherit the faith Singaporeans had in Lee Kuan Yew through the visible symbol of the house.”

“He wanted to appear filial in public whilst acting to thwart our parents’ wishes in private,” they said.

The siblings said Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes went public in Singapore “only after the international press carried the news.”