SINGAPORE • 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 (PM) Lee Hsien Loong.
Lee spoke in Parliament yesterday in a bid to lay to rest as pat with his two siblings over the estate of the country’s first PM, who died in 2015. Still, in his speech he acknowledged the dispute was unlikely to ever be resolved fully.
“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 PM, I deeply regret that this has happened and apologise 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 PM’s siblings issued a six-page statement on Facebook. Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang accused their brother of manoeuvring behind the scenes to undermine their father’s instructions to demolish the house he lived in for decades. They also criticised the PM’s wife, Ho Ching, who is CEO of state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd.
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 (PAP)-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.
Lee Kuan Yew was PM 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 emphasised incorruptibility and stability. Lee stepped down from the Cabinet in 2011.
Lee 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 PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority after 13 years as PM 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.”
Lee, who became Singapore’s third PM in 2004, took the unusual step of lifting the party whip for yesterday’s parliamentary sitting, meaning lawmakers can vote outside party lines. The PAP holds 83 of 89 Parliament seats.
The PM 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 signalled 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%, the highest since 2001. — Bloomberg