Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s (李顯龍) younger brother and sister yesterday said they have lost confidence in the nation’s leader and fear “the use of the organs of the state against us.”
“We are concerned that the system has few checks and balances to prevent the abuse of government. We feel big brother omnipresent,” Lee Wei Ling (李瑋玲) and Lee Hsien Yang (李顯揚) said in a joint news release and an accompanying six-page statement issued at 2am.
As a result, Lee Hsien Yang, and his wife, Lim Suet Fern (林學芬), would be leaving Singapore.
“I have no desire to leave. Hsien Loong is the only reason for my departure,” he said.
“We feel hugely uncomfortable and closely monitored in our own country,” they said, in a rare public display of discord at the top of a city state that usually keeps such matters behind closed doors.
The prime minister issued a statement denying the allegations and said he was very disappointed that they have chosen to publicize private family matters.
“I’m deeply saddened by the unfortunate allegations that they have made,” he said.
“While siblings may have differences, I believe that any such differences should stay in the family,” said the prime minister, who is overseas on holiday with his family.
Lee Hsien Yang, a businessman and chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, said he was still in Singapore, but plans to leave “for the foreseeable future.”
The siblings provided no specific evidence of action by the Singaporean government against them. Reuters was unable to independently verify the accusations.
“There are many ways that messages get sent to people to make them feel unwelcome and I have received many messages. Not from my brother, because we communicate via lawyers,” Lee Hsien Yang said in an interview.
“I would not do this if I did not feel threatened,” he said, adding that he is not an impetuous anti-establishment figure out to attack the government or his brother.
At the heart of the family dispute is the future of a house near the bustling Orchard shopping district in which their father, Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), lived most of his life. He was the first prime minister of Singapore and ruled the nation for three decades.
Before he died in 2015, the founding father of modern Singapore made it public that he wanted his house, a humbly furnished home with retro furniture, demolished.
“I’ve seen other houses, Nehru’s, Shakespeare’s. They become a shambles after a while. People trudge through,” Lee Kuan Yew told the Straits Times in a 2011 interview. “Because of my house, the neighboring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up.”
The prime minister’s siblings claim that he and his wife, Ho Ching (何晶), had opposed the demolition wish.
They accused the prime minister of wanting to “milk Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy for their own political purposes” and claimed that the preservation of the house would enhance their brother’s political capital.
The siblings also said that they believed the prime minister and his wife “harbour political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi (李鴻毅).”
In his statement, the prime minister said that he and his wife, who is chief executive of state investment firm Temasek Holdings, “especially” denied the allegation that they had political ambitions for their son, saying it was “absurd.”
Li Hongyi, who previously worked for Google as a product manager and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, currently works for a state technology agency.
The prime minister said he would continue to uphold meritocracy as a fundamental value of Singaporean society.
“Since my father’s passing in March 2015, as the eldest son I have tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family, out of respect for our parents... My siblings’ statement has hurt our father’s legacy. I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents,” he said.
It is the second time in 15 months that the issue has exploded into public view. In April last year, Lee Wei Ling accused the prime minister of abusing his power.
This time the involvement of both siblings, and Lee Hsien Yang’s decision to leave the city state have taken it to a new level.
The prime minister’s office did not respond to a series of questions about the dispute that were e-mailed by Reuters.
Major Singaporean media yesterday reported prominently on the division in the family, mostly leading with the prime minister’s response to the siblings’ accusations.
There was no apparent reaction on Singapore’s financial markets, with stocks down 0.2 percent and the Singapore dollar little changed.
The prime minister said he would consider the matter further when he returns to Singapore this weekend.
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