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Politics

Lee family dispute moves from Facebook to parliament

Opposition says spat over Lee Kwan Yew's house hurting national image

SINGAPORE -- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in parliament on Monday that he has nothing to hide in a very public spat with his two siblings over their father's estate, while opposition members claimed the family feud has rocked the image of a nation which built its reputation on the rule of law.

The prime minister described as "entirely baseless" allegations of abuse of power and nepotism made by his younger brother and sister. The eldest in the family expressed his determination "to defend the government's integrity and the rule of law" among the legacies of his father.

The dispute centers on the will of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, and what should become of his historic home from the 1940s at 38 Oxley Road.

Lee Hsien Loong disagrees with his younger brother and sister that the house should be demolished according to one interpretation of the will. The family row has been ongoing since the middle of June on Facebook.

On the first day of  the family saga debate in parliament, members expressed concern that the matter is distracting the government.

"This is not a Korean drama," said Low Thia Khiang, secretary general of the Workers' Party, the sole opposition. "The Lee family saga has shaken international confidence in Singapore, which is known as a country of political and social stability," he said. "It is a serious matter because it affects [the] credibility of our entire country."

Low said the proper forum for private disputes is a court of law. "This Lee family saga playing out on Facebook has become an ugly media circus," he said. "Settling this in court would enable everyone to put forward their sides of the story with evidence and with dignity."

Pritam Singh, another member of the Workers' Party, suggested a parliamentary select committee be set up to resolve the issue. He said this could move the matter forward as the prime minister would prefer not to take legal action against his own family.

"[S]uing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents' names," said Lee. "It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans."

The family dispute surfaced on June 14 when Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister's younger brother and former chief executive of Singapore Telecommunications, and their sister Lee Wei Ling, former director of the National Neuroscience Institute, issued a strongly worded statement on Facebook.

The younger siblings accused the prime minister of abuse of power. He responded equally publicly. On June 29, Hsien Yang said in another Facebook posting that raising the issue in parliament is "Lee Hsien Loong's attempt to cover up and whitewash himself".

Some believe the row could yet have an impact on national governance. "A call for more transparency in the government's decision-making process will be heightened in Singapore going forward," said Professor Keiko Tamura of the University of Kitakyushu, a specialist in international relations and Southeast Asian studies. She noted, however, that the weakness of the opposition limits the pressure it can exert on the ruling People's Action Party, which has 83 of parliament's 89 seats.

The debate will continue on Tuesday.

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