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Politics

Singapore prime minister's brother backs an opposition heavyweight

Lee Hsien Yang calls his older sibling's rival 'the leader Singapore deserves'

Tan Cheng Bock ran for President in 2011 but lost by a thin margin.    © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has taken a blow from his previously nonpolitical brother, who has declared his support for Tan Cheng Bock, a 78-year-old former lawmaker and presidential candidate on the comeback trail.

"I have known Cheng Bock for many years and he has consistently put the interests of the people first," Lee's younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang, said Thursday on Facebook. "We are fortunate that he has stepped forward to serve Singapore."

Lee Hsien Yang also described Tan as "the leader Singapore deserves."

The endorsement comes amid a Lee family feud over the will of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father and the country's first prime minister. The elder Lee died in 2015, and his children have been at odds over their father's wish to tear down the family home.

Tan served in parliament as a member of the ruling People's Action Party for more than 20 years before retiring in 2006. He ran for the mostly ceremonial post of president in 2011 but lost by a thin margin. Last week, he and other former PAP cadres filed registration papers for a new party, the Progress Singapore Party, and called for people in opposition group to collaborate.

In Thursday's Facebook post, Hsien Yang said Tan "will groom future parliamentarians who will serve our country and people before party or self. This is good for the future of Singapore."

With the return of a popular figure and now Hsien Yang's support, the opposition could gain unprecedented momentum toward the next election.

Singapore was founded in 1965 and has been governed by the PAP for over 50 years. The party has dominated parliament, winning 83 of 89 seats contested in the last general election in 2015.

But continued tensions between the U.S. and China as well as the slowing global economy have backed trade-reliant Singapore into a difficult corner. Politically, the Lee family rift, the rising cost of living and a widening income gap are straining the ruling party.

The next general election must be called by April 2021, but Prime Minister Lee has hinted at the possibility of calling an election this year. The PAP renewed its executive team in November, when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was given the post of first assistant secretary-general, a position seen as a steppingstone to becoming party leader, and hence the prime minister of Singapore.

Despite the opposition camp's newfound momentum, the PAP remains dominant and is expected to lead in the polls.

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