Singapore First Family feud escalates as PM Lee accused of misuse of power

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Lindsay Murdoch

Bangkok: Lee Kuan Yew would turn in his grave if he knew about the feud that has broken out publicly in his family, two years after his death.

Over decades the Cambridge-educated lawyer ruthlessly crushed critics who dared suggest any misuse of official power on the island at the tip of peninsular Malaysia. The former prime minister turned it into a glittering regional financial powerhouse with a $US300 billion ($396 billion) economy.

But misuse of power is what his daughter Lee Wei Ling, a well-known neurosurgeon, accused her elder brother and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of doing in an explosive escalation of a feud that has shocked many people in strictly-controlled Singapore, where criticism of leaders is rare.

On Thursday Dr Lee hit back in a Facebook post at PM Lee who earlier claimed the row was “merely a family affair”. She said her brother’s “misuse of official power” against his siblings suggested he could do the same to ordinary Singaporeans.

The feud that has been simmering behind-the-scenes since last year, broke into the open early on Wednesday when Dr Lee and her brother Lee Hsien Yang, the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, posted a joint statement on Facebook declaring they felt “threatened” by their brother’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,” they said. “We feel big brother omnipresent.”

The statement said they believed their brother was “driven by a desire for power and personal popularity”.

It also said PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching, the chief executive of Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, “want to milk” the legacy of their father “for their own political purposes”. They also believe “based on our interactions, that they harbour political ambitions” for their second eldest son Li Hongyi, a 30-year-old former army officer.

PM Lee responded in a Facebook post from Scotland, where he is on a family holiday, expressing disappointment over the statement.

“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,” he said.

Claims of nepotism are highly sensitive in Singapore.  Under Lee Kuan Yew’s rule from 1959 to 1990 his People’s Action Party remained solidly united as critics were jailed or driven into bankruptcy by costly libel suits, the media was stifled and political dissent crushed.

PM Lee took over from his father’s successor, Goh Chok Tong, in 2004.

His brother, Lee Hsien Yang, said in the statement the feud had forced he and his wife to leave Singapore.

“I have no desire to leave. Hsien Loong is the only reason for my departure,” he said,

At the centre of the row is a house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore, in which Lee Kuan Yew, who died a widower aged 91 in 2015, lived for most of his life.

The two younger Lees accuse their brother of opposing their father’s wish for the house to be demolished and wanting to preserve it as a monument for his political advantage.

PM Lee, who led his party to a landslide election victory in 2015, months after his father’s death, said in his post that he had recused himself from all government decisions involving the house.

“I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents,” the Prime Minister said.

“At the same time I will continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my ability…in particular that means upholding meritocracy, which is a fundamental value of our society,” he said.

“My siblings’ statement has hurt our father’s legacy.”

 

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