A teary eyed Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday told lawmakers he hoped to one day reconcile with his estranged younger siblings who accused him of abusing his power, but warned their bitter public feud was unlikely to end any time soon.
In a round-up speech following a two-day parliamentary debate on the allegations made by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, the premier said comments by him and his ministers from the despatch box showed beyond doubt he had committed no wrongdoing.
“I hope one day, these passions will subside, and we can begin to reconcile. At the very least, I hope my siblings will not visit their resentments and grievances with one generation onto the next generation,” Lee told lawmakers.
WATCH: Singapore PM says siblings’ charges ‘baseless’
His eyes reddened and his voice choked with emotion as he spoke about “a difficult ... long road” towards rapprochement with his siblings. Other MPs from his ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) were also seen wiping away tears as he spoke.
The three are the children of the country’s revered independence leader Lee Kuan Yew. The premier warned it was likely his two siblings’ attacks against him would continue in the near term.
The feud over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road – Lee Kuan Yew’s home of seven decades – erupted into a national debate last month after the two younger siblings went public with stunning accusations that their brother had used his executive powers to get his way over the property.
“I hope this two-day debate has cleared the air and will calm things down,” Premier Lee said.
But “it would be unrealistic to hope that the matter is now completely put to rest. I do not know what further statements or allegations my siblings may make,” he said. He rounded off his second speech in two days by urging the city state to move on from the saga. “This is not a soap opera ... We must all get back to work.”
The prime minister dismissed calls by some MPs for a parliamentary select committee to conduct a probe on the abuse of power claims, claiming there was no case to answer.
Chief among the siblings’ accusations is that the premier convened a ministerial committee to railroad their plans to demolish 38 Oxley Road – a wish their father included in his final will.
They say Lee Hsien Loong opposes demolition because he wants to preserve the house as a monument in order to draw political capital from their father’s aura as the republic’s founding premier. But Premier Lee and his ministers dismissed the accusations as “baseless”.
Lee Hsien Yang, the youngest of the three siblings, told the Post the prime minister had misled their father Lee Kuan Yew into thinking the government had gazetted the patriarch’s century-old bungalow for preservation as a heritage site.
The former military general said it was only because Lee Kuan Yew believed this to be a fait accompli that the patriarch wavered in his wish to demolish the property upon his death.
That went against Lee Hsien Loong’s contention in parliament on Monday that their father’s preference for demolition was not “black and white”.
In that speech, Premier Lee said their father had even approved architectural plans for interior renovation, showing he was open to less extreme options than demolition.
Responding on Tuesday on whether he misled his father, Premier Lee said: “I think when the allegation is that you have deceived Mr Lee Kuan Yew and it is directed at the prime minister, that can never be a private allegation. It has enormous ramifications for my standing and reputation, and the matter has to be answered.”
“The simple answer is that I didn’t deceive my father,” Lee said, pointing out that he told his father outright that he would not be able to overrule his cabinet on gazetting the house. In a 2011 meeting with the senior Lee, ministers told the patriarch they opposed the demolition of the house.
In his round up speech, the premier repeated a point he made a day earlier – that he would not sue his siblings for libel because that would further besmirch his parents’ names.
Low Thia Khiang, the legislature’s unofficial opposition leader, took issue with this stance, citing past cases in which the premier won defamation suits against domestic political opponents.
“Does this not show that blood is thicker than water? Own siblings, cannot sue. After all we are all brothers and sisters. But political opponents and critics, sue until your pants drop!” said Low, whose Workers’ Party holds six out of 89 elected seats in the parliament. Lee’s PAP – in power since 1959 – holds the remaining 83 seats. The prime minister did not directly address Low’s comments.
The premier’s predecessor, Goh Chok Tong, meanwhile attacked the two younger Lee siblings and Lee Hsien Yang’s lawyer wife Lee Suet Fern for using disagreements over 38 Oxley Road to advance what he claimed was a “personal vendetta”.
“From what Lee Hsien Yang and his wife are freely telling many others, it is clear that their goal is to bring Lee Hsien Loong down as PM, regardless of the huge collateral damage suffered by the government and Singaporeans,” said Goh, who handed power to Lee Hsien Loong in 2004 after taking the helm from Lee Kuan Yew in 1990.
“It is now no more a cynical parlour game. If the Lee siblings choose to squander the good name and legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, and tear their relationship apart, it is tragic but a private family affair,” Goh said. “But if in the process of their self-destruction, they destroy Singapore too, that is a public affair.”
A scientific poll conducted by the Singapore-based pollster Blackbox Research showed eight out of ten Singaporeans felt the feud had hurt the Lion City’s international reputation.