The Lee siblings’ statement: not just a family feud, but an issue that concerns us all

Lee siblings

“We have felt threatened by Hsien Loong’s misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government to drive his personal agenda.”

The statement released early this morning by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, the two siblings of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has been confirmed as authentic. The full statement can be found here, and a summary is provided here.

In the statement, the Lee siblings expressed their disappointment in PM Lee’s conduct and leadership, and how he has “eroded” the “values of Lee Kuan Yew”.

“Since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew… we have felt threatened by Hsien Loong’s misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government to drive his personal agenda. We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government… We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.”

Concerning the late Mr Lee’s wishes to demolish his old house – 38 Oxley Road – the Lee siblings accused PM Lee of deliberately misrepresenting Lee Kuan Yew’s clear intentions for his own political benefit, in an attempt to frustrate their father’s wishes that the house be demolished. They accuse PM Lee of doing so in order to “inherit a tangible monument to Lee Kuan Yew’s authority”, and that “Hsien Loong threatened us and demanded our silence on our father’s last wish.”

A genuine plea or a knife in the back?

Make no mistake; as much as the Lee siblings describe themselves as “private citizens”, their statement was a carefully planned political maneuver. It was launched in the wee hours of the morning in order for it to gain traction before the opening of the news day, ensuring it was the first thing the public read this morning. Furthermore, it was made while PM Lee was overseas on holiday with his family, thereby limiting his ability to consult his advisers and delivering a delivering a response.

However, this should not distract us from the seriousness of the accusations made, and their political impact. The Prime Minister has been accused of the following things:

  1. Abusing his power – by using his position of power to threaten his siblings and “driving his personal agenda”.
  2. Nepotism – by “harbour(ing) political ambitions for (his) son, Li Hongyi”, and how his wife, Ho Ching, has a pervasive influence that extends well beyond her job purview, unlike the late Mrs Kwa Geok Choo (Lee Kuan Yew’s wife), who led a life outside the limelight.
  3. Having a thirst for power – by being “driven by a desire for power and personal popularity.”
  4. Being a product of his father’s influence – according to the Lee siblings’ accusation that his “political power is drawn from his being Lee Kuan Yew’s son.”
  5. Dishonesty – by deliberately misrepresenting the late Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes for his own purposes.

These are extremely serious allegations. They undermine PM Lee’s character and his ability to lead the nation. Furthermore, they involve accusations of serious misconduct on PM Lee’s part as a public servant. These allegations must therefore be taken very seriously – if true, then we ought to question the the Prime Minister’s ability to lead the country, since a person with such a record of misconduct appears unfit for high public office. However, if false, PM Lee must quickly present the necessary evidence to clear his name. Whatever the case, these allegations cannot go unanswered.

Not just a family feud, but important issues that concern all Singaporeans

It may be easy to conclude that this is a family feud, pure and simple. However, when we look at the bigger picture, the allegations correspond with a number of issues that Singaporeans have seen and heard about for a long time. Hence, it is difficult to consider the statement as pertaining to an isolated incident, or that it is merely part of a family feud. Instead, it might be worth paying attention to the issues raised.

First, the use of threats to silence one’s opponents is not foreign to the Singapore political context. Take for example what happened to Prof. Donald Low from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He made a statement in good faith, criticizing the Law Minister, K Shanmugam, statement on considering public opinion in criminal sentencing. The Law Minister had reasonable grounds to object Prof. Low’s views, and making these objections clear would have been enough to rebut the criticisms made. Yet, Prof. Low was compelled to make an embarrassing and grovelling apology (two apologies, in fact), possibly as a result of threats made against him and concerning his job. Prof. Low has since stopped posting his views on Facebook.

Second, nepotism and cronyism within the government and the PAP are two major concerns amongst Singaporeans. Many have harbored doubts about Ho Ching’s prominent public role, which raises questions about conflicts of interest. Furthermore, the general manner in which the PAP functions has raised many questions. Take for example, Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling’s husband’s connections to PM Lee.

Third, the issue of the PAP being both willing and able to abuse its power to further its agenda is something of great concern. Take for example the recent amendments to the Elected Presidency in order to allow what appears to be the PAP’s favored candidate, who is currently a PAP MP, to avoid a contest with Mr Tan Cheng Bock, who lost the last election by a very narrow margin. To make matters worse, Minister Chan Chun Sing even had the gall to refer to that MP, who was also the Speaker of Parliament, as “Madam President”, thereby making a mockery of the democratic process. As this website has argued in a previous article, incidents like these make Singaporeans lose trust in the government.

It is curious that the Lee siblings claim that “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.” If true, then how come none of these leaders have spoken up against PM Lee’s grip on power? Perhaps the Lee siblings’ accusations concerning the problems with the way power is wielded at the top does not end with PM Lee’s conduct. If true, this is a very frightening thought.

One must imagine that something very drastic must have happened in order for two prominent members of the Lee family, who have much to lose, to launch such a serious attack on their own brother. Their statement adds much credibility to the doubts and suspicion that many Singaporeans already have about the workings of the PAP and the way power is used and controlled at the top.

In summary, the accusations made against the PM are extremely serious. They call his leadership and character into doubt, and also bring to our attention the way power is wielded and exercised at the upper echelons of Singapore’s political hierarchy.

What we need now is an inquiry into the matter in order to find out whether these allegations are in fact true, for if they are true, then we have much to worry about as citizens.

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Author: Rio Hoe

Rio is the chief editor and co-founder of Consensus SG. He is a recent law graduate from the University of Oxford. His interests include politics, legal theory and political philosophy.

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