Singaporean political stalwarts have stepped up calls for an end to the bitter public feud among the children of the late Lee Kuan Yew, as the Lion City marked Father’s Day worrying whether the squabble will hurt the revered patriarch’s legacy the longer it goes on.
But the social media squabble between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest child, and the two younger children, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, is showing no sign of abating five days since the scandal exploded in the public domain.
Political observers say the premier’s next move – he returned from a vacation in Australia on Saturday – will provide some indication on how the dispute will be resolved. Early on Sunday, Lee Hsien Yang fired a fresh Facebook volley, aimed this time at his brother’s cabinet ministers.
Lee Kuan Yew’s immediate successor Goh Chok Tong – prime minister from 1990 to 2004 – on Saturday night said the public acrimony “is not the family legacy which their father would have wanted to leave behind”.
Goh, who now holds the position of emeritus senior minister, added that Singaporeans “can urge them to settle their dispute amicably in private or through closed-door arbitration”.
SINGAPOREANS ‘SICK AND TIRED’
K. Shanmugam, the home affairs and law minister, meanwhile said the government was busy attending to “serious business” relating to citizens’ welfare. “I am sure most Singaporeans are sick and tired about these endless allegations, which are quite baseless,” he wrote on Facebook.
The two younger siblings on Wednesday shocked Singaporeans as they accused Lee Hsien Loong of abusing his executive powers to force them to drop plans to demolish the family home – a wish the elder Lee put in his seventh and final will.
The patriarch, who died at age 91 in March 2015, had said he did not like the idea that after his death, strangers would be able to “trudge through” the house he called home for seven decades.
The younger siblings – trustees and executors of Lee Kuan Yew’s will – say Lee Hsien Loong is ignoring this wish by pushing for the preservation of the bungalow at 38 Oxley Road as a means to “milk” his father’s political capital.
The prime minister in turn has slammed his siblings for spreading “baseless accusations” and taking public a private family dispute.
Lee had recused himself from any government decision on the house. He has said that as a son he wanted to abide by his father’s wishes but he had to leave it to the state to decide on a decision of public interest.
The prime minister’s position on 38 Oxley Road is that the government must “go beyond” Lee’s final will to determine the fate of the family home.
As the saga escalated, Lee revealed he had “grave concerns” about the drafting of the seventh will – in which the so-called “demolition clause” mandating the razing of the house had appeared.
It had been removed in the previous two versions of Lee Kuan Yew’s will.
The premier called into question the role Lee Suet Fern, the wife of Lee Hsien Yang, had played in the drafting of the seventh will. The will not only reinstated the demolition clause but also returned her husband’s share to one-third of the estate.
EQUALLY REPULSED AND RIVETED
Ordinary citizens have been equally repulsed and riveted by the squabble, which has been punctuated by multiple daily Facebook posts by the siblings, and return volleys from the government.
Many sent Lee Hsien Loong Father’s Day greetings after he posted a message on Facebook commemorating the occasion. “Praying for the reconciliation of the First Family,” wrote Khoo LW on the premier’s Facebook wall.
Another Facebook user, Chee Ping Chen, urged the premier to “do the right thing for your father [and] tear down that house”.
“Happy Father’s Day to you too. From one father to another father,” Chen added.
Some have quipped that productivity in the efficiency-obsessed country had plummeted since the saga broke on Wednesday, as people stay glued to their smartphones watching the drama unfold on social media.
One blogger wrote that he had stopped watching the latest season of the popular Netflix political thriller House of Cards because the real life drama in the Lion City was better.
And on Sunday, Lee Hsien Yang provided the latest twist to the plot with a fresh Facebook post at 5.51am. He characterised a little known committee set up to study the future of the family home as “a committee of the highest paid ministers in the world … set up in secret”.
The ministerial committee’s existence came into public knowledge only this week, leading Lee Hsien Yang and his sister to insinuate that it was a “secret” group of premier Lee’s subordinates formed to block their efforts to demolish the home. The siblings said they had tried to no avail to get details about the committee’s make-up for “nearly a year”.
But the city-state’s deputy prime minister, Teo Chee Hean, on Saturday revealed this information and said he had formed the four-person committee to consider the “public interest aspects” of the house – given its historical and heritage significance.
The basement of the home is regarded as the birthplace of the People’s Action Party (PAP) which was co-founded by Lee Kuan Yew and which has ruled Singapore uninterrupted since 1959. “There is nothing ‘secret’ about this committee,” Teo said.
The deputy premier said one option the committee was studying was to demolish the house but to also preserve the dining room in the basement where key PAP meetings were held.
HOW WILL IT END?
The highly unprecedented nature of the quarrel – interlaced with complex legal issues and questions of governance – has left even veteran Singapore watchers scratching their heads on what to expect next and whether and how resolution can be achieved.
One long-time politics observer who did want to be named said the younger siblings’ guerrilla communication tactics – the use of basic infographics on Facebook, email dumps on Google Drive, and interviews with foreign news outlets – suggested they were doing all they could to get their point of view across to the public.
Lee Hsien Yang, his eldest son Li Shengwu, and Lee Wei Ling have been coordinating their social media posts, and “re-sharing” each other’s updates.
Local mainstream media have aired the younger siblings’ views, but the views of the premier and his ministers are given prominence.
“The two younger children’s choice [of communication tactics] reflects the actions of actors who are in a less advantaged position relative to the party they are facing [off] with,” the commentator said.
Law professor Eugene Tan, who follows Singapore politics closely, said sentiment among the public and the political elite remained in favour of premier Lee. “But what sort of longer-term impact the matter will have on the PM, the party, and the government is still too early to say,” Tan said.
“Much will depend on how PM Lee – and the government – responds, which will be closely watched, and will have to be beyond reproach.”