June 14, 2017 9:07 pm JST

Singapore prime minister in open feud with siblings

Lee Hsien Loong denies their claims that he is abusing his power

JUSTINA LEE, Nikkei staff writer

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching attend a wreath laying at the Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi in March. © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- A bitter -- and highly public -- feud is raging between the children of Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, with the late leader's two youngest children accusing their older brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of abusing his position, among other claims.

Fueling the rift is a disagreement over the fate of their father's home.

Lee, who had lived in the prime Oxley Road location since the 1940s, had on many occasions expressed his wish to have the house torn down after his death. When he passed away in 2015, his daughter Lee Wei Ling and son Lee Hsien Yang became executors and trustees of his will. They said their father had given them clear instructions in his last will and testament, written in 2013, to demolish the house immediately after his death or after his daughter who is living in the house, moves out.

After Lee died, Hsien Loong said in a joint statement with his siblings that he had "recused himself from all government decisions involving 38 Oxley Road and, in his personal capacity, would also like to see this wish (of the late Lee) honored."

But his siblings now claim that their brother wants the house to keep standing.

"We are private citizens with no political ambitions," the siblings said in a statement. "We have nothing to gain from the demolition of 38 Oxley Road, other than the knowledge that we have honored our father's last wish. Hsien Loong has everything to gain from preserving 38 Oxley Road."

Deeper concerns

The fight goes beyond the fate of the home, however. The younger siblings also said they felt threatened by the prime minister's "misuse of his position and influence" over the Singapore government and its agencies "to drive his personal agenda" since their father's death.

Wei Ling and Hsien Yang said they were "disturbed by the character, conduct, motives and leadership" of their brother, and expressed concern that "the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government" and that "big brother [was] omnipresent."

In their statement, the siblings also said they were worried that their brother and his wife, Ho Ching, "want to milk Lee Kuan Yew's legacy for their own political purposes." They also said they believe the couple is harboring "political ambitions" for one of their sons, Li Hongyi.

Responding to these comments on his Facebook page on Wednesday, the prime minister wrote: "I am deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations that they have made. Ho Ching and I deny these allegations, especially the absurd claim that I have political ambitions for my son."

Added Lee: "I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents. At the same time, I will continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my ability."

Though messages of sympathy for the prime minister quickly filled his Facebook page, some Singaporeans appear to view the saga as a private matter that will have few broader repercussions.

"Disputes are always common in a family," wrote Facebook user Joseph Tan. "Let this be resolved among you and your siblings. We are sure your family and you will able to ... have a common understanding at the end."

Jay Yong Sheng, another Facebook user, wrote: "It is highly unfortunate that private family matters have become publicized and used as a pedagogical weapon of politics. Family matters should stay within the family."

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