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Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore’s image is at stake in bitter family feud

It is essential for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to address the allegations by his younger brother and sister that have cast a shadow over the Lion City

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 12:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:08pm

Little more than two years after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern Singapore, his legacy is suffering from a bitter public feud among its ultimate custodians – his own very prominent family. As a result, the current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee’s eldest son, returns to his desk from leave to deal with what could develop into a painful experience for the island state, with possible legal ramifications.

The late Lee is credited with transforming a strategically located but impoverished, resource-poor state facing big social challenges, into a thriving, high-tech regional business hub often compared with Hong Kong.

The Lee family brand is indelibly associated with the widely recognised success of its authoritarian model. Now sibling tensions have erupted, with the leader’s younger brother and sister claiming they feared for their safety because, they said, their elder brother was using state organs to harass them. They claimed the harassment was so bad younger brother Lee Hsien Yang felt compelled to leave Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew family feud: Singapore PM questions sister-in-law’s role in last will, suggesting father in dark about key details

The city state prides itself on the rule of law and clean, competent government. Charges that the prime minister is using state agencies to harass private citizens and making public-sector appointments for personal gain are very serious. These may only be allegations but, if true, they are a direct attack on Singapore’s reputation. Lee Hsien Loong hit back immediately, accusing his siblings of publicising private family matters. His sister countered, rightly enough after the disclosures, that they are now a matter of public interest. In a lengthy rebuttal, the premier has since raised questions about the circumstances surrounding the signing of Lee Kuan Yew’s will, in which the fate of his family home is now an issue in dispute.

That may feed the family feud. But it is very important, for the sake of Singapore’s future, that the prime minister address the allegations that cast a shadow over the city and its governance. His businessman brother and neurologist sister Lee Wei Ling are not, after all, ordinary folk, but members of Singapore’s meritocratic establishment. Sadly, this painful episode could drag Singapore’s image through the courts.