Scandal in the Making: Singapore’s First Family Feud

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Once squeaky clean, the reputation of Singapore’s first family is rocked by an increasingly bitter feud.

Siblings’ allegations against PM Lee Hsien Loong:

  • Abuse of power
  • Milking father’s legacy for political gain
  • Wife’s influence on government
  • Political ambitions for son
Reuters

Accused of abusing power by none other than his own siblings, who say they have lost confidence in the prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong has come under the kind of scathing personal and political attack that scandals are made of.

Lee Wei Ling and her brother Lee Hsien Yang said in a public statement released online at about 2:00 am this morning that they were “disturbed by the character, conduct, motives and leadership” of the premier and his wife.

Lee Hsien Yang/Facebook

Their criticism appeared to focus on a dispute over the fate of the family home, the influence of the first lady on government, and allegations that the prime minister was nurturing political ambitions for his son.

“We feel extremely sad that we are pushed to this position,” they wrote. “We have seen a completely different face to our brother, one that deeply troubles us.”

Hsien Loong later said he was “deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations”.

Since the death of their father and Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew two years ago, the siblings said they had “felt threatened by Hsien Loong’s misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda”.

The siblings feared “the use of the organs of state” against them.

“We feel big brother omnipresent,” his siblings said, adding that Hsien Yang, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, and his wife now felt “compelled to leave the country for the foreseeable future”.

Hsien Yang, whose wife Lee Suet-Fern is a corporate lawyer, said he had not yet decided where he would move to.

Kuan Yew, who ruled from 1959 to 1990, is credited with turning an island with poor resources into south-east Asia’s wealthiest nation.

His eldest son and current leader also retains a firm grip on power and widespread popularity, winning 83 of 89 seats in a 2015 election.

The siblings’ statement said that Hsien Loong was driven by a desire for “power and personal popularity”, milking his father’s legacy for political purposes.

“We feel hugely uncomfortable and closely monitored in our own country. We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him,” the statement read.

“We also believe, based on our interactions, that (the PM and his wife) harbour political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi.”

The comments by Wei Ling, a neurosurgeon, and Hsien Yang also took aim at first lady Ho Ching, chief executive of the state investor Temasek.

They said that unlike their mother, who acted outside the limelight as a private adviser, Ho Ching had amassed huge influence that extended “well beyond her job purview”.

The extraordinary display of open disapproval triggered a social media storm in Singapore, where open criticism of political leaders is discouraged and can lead to prison sentences.

The bulk of the six-page statement focused on a dispute over the family home, 38 Oxley Road, referencing how their father had asked for it to be demolished upon his death, which they said was part of his long-held beliefs against monuments and self-aggrandising.

Straits Times

“However, we believe that Hsien Loong and Ho Ching are motivated by a desire to inherit Lee Kuan Yew’s standing and reputation for themselves and their children,” the statement read.

“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.”

They said Hsien Loong had gone against Kuan Yew’s wishes and “expressed plans to move with their family into the house as soon as possible after Lee Kuan Yew’s passing.”

The premier immediately fired back, slamming them on Facebook, saying he was “very disappointed that my siblings have chosen to issue a statement publicising private family matters”.

Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook

Denying the allegations, including harbouring any political ambitions for his son, he said differences among siblings should “stay in the family” and the statement had “hurt our father’s legacy”.

Although rare, the ruling family have had public spats in the past – Wei Ling said in April 2015 that the government had tried to use the first anniversary of Kuan Yew’s death as “hero worship” and that her brother was “abusing his power”.