LKY kids' feud rocks Singapore

SINGAPORE is often dubbed by foreign media as "squeaky clean", bolstered by its world ranking as a virtually corruption-free nation and one that rarely goes through controversies and scandals.

Over the past 52 years since its separation from Malaysia, and prior to that, there's always been a smooth transfer of power from one People's Action Party (PAP) leader to another with the most dominant of them all being its founding father Lee Kuan Yew – better known as LKY – who ruled for 31 years until 1990.

Even two years after his death his larger than life image still casts a shadow over Singaporeans, reinforced by the fact that the prime minister for the past 13 years is none other than his own son, Lee Hsien Loong, eldest of the three LKY siblings.

But some cracks in this squeaky clean label began to surface late last year when out of the blue the two younger siblings, Hsien Loong's sister Wei Ling and brother Hsien Yang, went public with accusations against their prime minister brother over a very personal family matter.

They spoke of how Hsien Loong was blocking all efforts to execute their father's will that the family house at 38 Oxley Road be demolished upon his death.

Hsien Loong apparently was bent on preserving the family home as a monument in memory of his father's legacy.

By Singapore standards, where things are much more predictable and tranquil than what we face on this side of the Causeway, the simmering family feud was a shocking revelation.

But for the past six months or so the controversy somewhat cooled off, at least from a public standpoint, and most people would have thought the siblings had patched up their quarrel.

When I interviewed the prime minister at his office in November last year, right after the spat among the siblings erupted, I was tempted to ask him to comment on this but on second thought I decided not to.

In reality, however, it was not just a mere storm in a tea cup but the Malay saying "air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya", which means "still waters run deep" giving a more accurate picture.

Just two days ago both Wei Ling and Hsien Yang issued a six-page bombshell statement that was tantamount to a declaration of war against Hsien Loong, something that is absolutely unprecedented in a family quarrel.

"We have seen a completely different face to our brother, one that deeply troubles us. We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother and have lost confidence in him," said the duo.

They gave glimpses of the situation in Singapore during the post-LKY era, saying there have been changes in the island republic that do not reflect what he stood for.

The crux of them having no qualms about washing dirty linen in public lies in the fact that throughout his entire life, LKY was a strong opponent of monuments, particularly of himself.

His sole focus was on Singapore and its future, and for Singaporeans to remember him for what he did and not through monuments.

It is for this reason that Lee Kuan Yew made clear throughout the years in public and private, his wish that his home at 38 Oxley Road be demolished upon his passing. In his last will on Dec 17, 2013 he again reiterated his wish and directed his three children to ensure that it be fulfilled. Indeed, his opposition to monuments was so strong that he had made clear than even if the house were gazetted (against his wishes), it should only be open to his children and their descendants.

They also revealed that both Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching, who is the CEO of Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government investment conglomerate, have opposed LKY's wish to demolish the house.

The statement mentioned at great length the legal efforts by lawyers representing both sides, one to comply with and the other to block the will, as well as that of a government committee to hinder them from executing the will.

An independent survey, meanwhile, showed that 77% of Singaporeans supported the demolition of the house and only 17% opposed it.

It listed out a series of allegations against Hsien Loong, the gist of which is that preserving the house would allow the prime minister and his family to "inherit a tangible monument to Lee Kuan Yew's authority".

"We are private citizens with no political ambitions. We have nothing to gain from the demolition of 38 Oxley Road, other than the knowledge that we have honoured our father's last wish," the statement said.

At the outset, it disclosed that Hsien Yang will leave Singapore to live abroad in the near future.

This was confirmed by both his wife and son yesterday.

"It is with a very heavy heart that I will leave Singapore for the foreseeable future. This is the country that my father loved and built. It has been home for my entire life. Singapore is and remains my country. Hsien Loong is the only reason for my departure".

The prime minister, who is on holiday overseas with his family, apparently stunned by the full-frontal attack from his own siblings, has denied the allegations.

"I am very disappointed that my siblings have chosen to issue a statement publicising private family matters. 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," Hsien Loong said in defence.

"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 parents. My siblings' statement has hurt our father's legacy," he said.

Hsien Loong returns from his holiday this weekend and Singaporeans especially are waiting with bated breath for what's next in his spectacular sibling feud.

The only way I see how this is going to be settled once and for all is when the house is demolished, just as the grand old man had wanted it to be in the first place.

A Singaporean friend of mine texted this message to conclude this column: "All this goes to show that Singapore is after all a normal country. This (feud) should inject a huge dose of humility in every Singaporean. And this is for the better".