Lee Family Feud Has Damaged Singapore’s Reputation, PM Says

  • Singapore leader in dispute with siblings over father’s estate
  • Lee says estate spat unlikely to ever be fully resolved

Lee Hsien Loong.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A dispute between the children of late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew has damaged the country’s reputation and could dent public confidence in the government if it continues, according to his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lee spoke in parliament on Monday in a bid to lay to rest a spat with his two siblings over the estate of the country’s first prime minister, who died in 2015. Still, in his speech he acknowledged the dispute was unlikely to ever be resolved fully.

Lee Hsien Loong

Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images

“I know many Singaporeans are upset by this issue,” Lee said. “They are tired of the subject, and wish it would end,” he said. “I too am upset that things have reached this state.”

“As your prime minister, I deeply regret that this has happened and apologize to Singaporeans for this. As a son, I am pained at the anguish this strife would have caused my parents to feel if they were still alive.”

The spat burst into the public eye in the early hours of June 14 when the prime minister’s siblings issued a six-page statement on Facebook. Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang accused their brother of maneuvering behind the scenes to undermine their father’s instructions to demolish the house he lived in for decades. They also criticized the prime minister’s wife, Ho Ching, who is chief executive officer of state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte.

The tensions have gripped the island state for weeks with tit-for-tat accusations on social media, casting a shadow over Lee and his People’s Action Party-led government. Still, the PAP has a strong hold on power: It dominates the seats in parliament and increased its share of the popular vote in the last election.

‘Magic Properties’

Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister from 1959 to 1990, turning Singapore into Southeast Asia’s richest nation by opening the island to foreign investors. He ran a tightly controlled state that emphasized incorruptibility and stability. Lee stepped down from the cabinet in 2011.

Lee Hsien Loong said he denied allegations by his siblings of nepotism and attempts to misuse his power.

“Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as prime minister, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority after thirteen years as prime minister I must be in a pretty sad state,” he told parliament. “And if Singaporeans believe that such magic works in Singapore, I think Singapore will be in an even sadder state.”

Read more: Singapore Lee Family Feud Goes Public on Facebook

Lee, who became Singapore’s third prime minister in 2004, took the unusual step of lifting the party whip for Monday’s parliamentary sitting, meaning lawmakers can vote outside party lines. The PAP holds 83 of 89 parliament seats.

The prime minister said he had sought legal advice but believed that suing his siblings would further besmirch their parents’ names. “It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans,” he said. “Therefore, fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice.”

Lee, 65, has already signaled he doesn’t want to stay in office beyond the age of 70 and has been grooming a group of younger ministers for succession. In the 2015 election the PAP boosted its share of the popular vote by about 10 percentage points to nearly 70 percent, the highest since 2001.

While delivering a televised national day speech last August, Lee stumbled more than halfway through the multi hour address due to a temporary drop in blood pressure. He returned to finish the speech after a one-hour break.

He was given the all-clear for prostate cancer in May 2015, following surgery in February of that year to remove his cancerous prostate gland. That came more than two decades after Lee was treated and cleared of lymphoma.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, tipped as a potential successor for Lee, suffered a stroke during a cabinet meeting in May last year. He resumed his duties in August.

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