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Politics

Prime minister urges Singaporeans to get back to work

Opposition doubts parliamentary debate has brought closure to family feud

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke to Parliament on July 4.

SINGAPORE -- After two days in Parliament taken up with a family spat over the home of the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister, his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on everybody to "get back to work" -- but it is unclear whether the underlying disagreement will go away.

In his closing statement on Tuesday to the house, Lee said the debate showed that there was "no basis" to allegations against him of abuse of power made by his younger brother and sister. "After two days of debate, nobody has stood behind these allegations or offered any evidence," Lee said, including opposition members of Parliament.

Parliament has been reviewing the very public rift that opened up last month between Lee and younger siblings Lee Hsien Yang, formerly group CEO of Singapore Telecommunications, and Lee Wei Ling, formerly director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

The three siblings have fallen out badly with online exchanges over the fate of their father's house since the 1940s at 38 Oxley Road, near Singapore's commercial center.

The dispute has centered on whether to demolish the house as their father once intended, or to turn it into a historical site as the family patriarch may later have agreed to after taking advice. In a series of public exchanges on Facebook, the younger Lees argued that the prime minister was abusing his position to stop the house from being demolished. The elder brother denied the allegation. 

The prime minister has rejected calls from both sides of the house for a special parliamentary committee to investigate the issue, claiming there was no reason to establish one. "There are no specifics to the headline charge of abuse of power," he said.

Low Thia Khiang, secretary-general of the Workers' Party, the sole opposition with just six members in the 89-seat house, asked whether he was prepared to take legal action against the other two Lees or agree to a committee being established if the allegations persist. Lee hedged on the idea. "It depends on what they say," he said.

There is widespread dismay at the impact of the dispute on public life. "It has tarnished the reputation of Singapore and distracted the government from far more important work," former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said.

Although Lee said the debate aired "fully" all the accusations against him and his government, there were doubts that this could be achieved without all parties participating, given the firm rebuttals to his position on Facebook.

Pritam Singh, another parliamentarian from the Workers' Party, said he was uncertain if closure had been reached in the house. "If these allegations continue, does [the prime minister] not agree that the damage would still be done to the government?" he asked.

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