Singapore's Lee family feud rages online

June 15, 2017 12:18
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) has denied accusations by his two younger siblings Wei Ling (center) and Hsien Yang that he threatened them over the fate of the family house. Photos: Reuters, Internet, Flickr

Some emotionally charged Facebook posts that came out in the wee hours Wednesday morning have laid bare a new episode in the feud among the children of the late Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

It’s clear that Lee’s eldest son, the city state’s incumbent prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, has some extra damage control to do after the posts gave fresh evidence of the long-running travails between him and his two younger siblings.

In a seemingly orchestrated move, a six-page open letter, headlined “What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values”, by Lee’s brother Hsien Yang and sister Wei Ling, was posted on their respective Facebook pages early Wednesday morning.

The statement contains a barrage of allegations against the Lion City’s top leader and his wife, Ho Ching, with the crux of the row being the fate of the elder Lee’s residence.

Co-executors of their father’s will, Hsien Yang and Wei Ling excoriated the PM’s intent to preserve the villa, located at 38 Oxley Road in close vicinity of the bustling Orchard Road shopping precinct, despite their father’s resolve that it must be torn down upon his passing so that it does not become a monument to him.

The elder Lee made clear in his will that even if the house were to be gazetted by the government as a monument, “it should only be open to his children and their descendants”.

Hsien Yang and Wei Ling have also revealed that Lee Kuan Yew suspected that the PM and the First Lady “were behind what was represented to the family as a government initiative to preserve the house”, and the PM was “very angry” at the reading of his father’s will, which gave his sister Wei Ling “unfettered right” to remain living in the house and to carry out its demolition.

The pair noted that they were “threatened” by their brother, who wanted their silence on the will, as the PM sought to assert in parliament that Lee Kuan Yew had changed his decision and agreed to preserve the villa as a symbol of the founding father.

The two have gone so far as to suggest that the PM’s political power is related to “being Lee Kuan Yew’s son” and thus he “has every incentive to preserve Lee Kuan Yew’s house to inherit his credibility” and thus the PM “has deliberately misrepresented Lee Kuan Yew’s clear intentions for his own political benefit”, despite the PM’s earlier public declaration, following the elder Lee's state funeral, that he would recuse himself from whatever the government has decided to do with the house.

The two have questioned their brother’s “character, conduct, motives and leadership”, stressing that it is not entirely a family matter.

Siblings watched and threatened? 

Hsien Yang, currently the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, said in the statement that feeling the “big brother omnipresence” and fearing the “use of the organs of state” against he and his wife, Suet Fern, he may choose to leave the country in the foreseeable future.

Another bombshell is about the PM’s second son, Hongyi: “we also believe, based on our interactions, that Hsien Loong and Ho Ching harbor political ambitions for their son.”

This echoes Wei Ling’s 2016 war of words with his brother, one year after Lee Sr.’s death, in which the prominent neurologist lambasted the PM on Facebook for having “no qualms abusing his power to [have] a commemoration just one year after Lee Kuan Yew died ([lest] we forget)” and the intent to “establish a dynasty”.

“LKY’s daughter will not allow LKY’s name to be sullied by a dishonorable son,” she vowed, following her column “Lee Kuan Yew would have cringed at the hero worship just one year after his death” that the semi-government mouthpiece Straits Times refused to publish.

Most comments on Hsien Yang’s page support the demolition of the house, with some suggesting that “the change Singapore needs must start from within the Lee family”.

Meanwhile Lee Hsien Loong, who is currently on vocation and is away from Singapore, swiftly responded on Facebook saying that he is disappointed that “private family matters” were made public and denied all the allegations.

“Any such differences should stay in the family… as the eldest son I have tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family, out of respect for our parents,” wrote the PM.

Singapore’s subservient media, controlled by the government, has downplayed the renewed dissension within the Lee family.

Channel NewsAsia, another quasi-state broadcaster, reported Wednesday evening that the PM has never been involved in discussions on a ministerial committee that was set up to consider options for the Oxley Road house, quoting the Cabinet Secretary.

Wei Ling quickly refuted on her Facebook page at midnight that "private family matters don't involve setting up secret committees of ministers to get your way. There is no way that this committee was set up without LHL's tacit consent and approval".

In a separate post that came out at around 1:30 Thursday morning, Wei Ling said she was touring Scotland and that the open letter by her and Hsien Yang "was carefully vetted by our lawyers and obviously not in my own voice" but reports appeared in the Singapore press "gave the PM's version of the story".

She stressed that the main message, edited out by their lawyers, is not what they fear what the PM will do to them but how he can "misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens", and, it is the PM's younger brother, Hsien Yang, that "got most of the bullying".

"Hsien Loong and Ho Ching are finally showing their true colors. I think these colors show them unsuitable as PM and most certainly as PM's wife of Singapore," she concludes.

Lee Hsien Loong said he would consider this matter further after his return this weekend.

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Singapore PM parries sister’s claims of dynastic ambitions

A Lee family photo. Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo are seen in the front, while Hsien Yang (second, left), Hsien Loong (seventh) and Wei Ling (fourth, right) stand in the back. Photo: Internet
Lee Kuan Yew lived at the 38 Oxley Road house for decades. In his will, Lee wanted the place that witnessed Singapore's founding and development to be demolished. Photo: Facebook