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Tussle in Singapore PM’s family over father’s last wish on house legacy

Much of the family feud is centered around Lee Kuan Yew’s will directing to have his house demolished instead of being turned into a museum or heritage site.

world Updated: Jun 14, 2017 15:10 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press, Singapore
Singapore PM,Lee Hsien Loong,Lee Kuan Yew
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at the International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo, Japan, September 29, 2016.(Reuters File Photo)

A lengthy tussle heated up Wednesday between Singapore’s prime minister and his siblings over the last wishes of their father, the founding leader of the city-state.

The feud offers a rare glimpse into cracks in the prominent family after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, who led Singapore with an iron grip for more than three decades and is credited with transforming the resource poor island into a wealthy bustling financial hub with low crime and almost zero corruption.

Lee died a widower in 2015. Much of the family feud is centered around his will directing to have his house demolished instead of being turned into a museum or heritage site.

All three children, including his eldest son and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, have publicly supported this. But in a fresh statement, two siblings accused Lee of privately working against their father’s will to “enhance his political capital.”

Dr. Lee Wei Ling, a well-known neurosurgeon and her brother, business executive Lee Hsien Yang, claim that the prime minister had obtained a document and lobbied a government committee in hopes of preserving the house, which was built on prime land.

A view of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Oxley Road residence in Singapore on June 14, 2017. ( Reuters Photo )

There has been a “misuse of his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda,” the statement said. “His popularity is inextricably linked to Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. His political power is drawn from his being Lee Kuan Yew’s son.”

“We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him,” it added.

Such grave accusations directed at a leading official are extremely rare in Singapore. Since taking power in 2004, Lee has sued critics for defamation and won.

Lee, who is currently away on holiday, has denied the allegations. “I am very disappointed that my siblings have chosen to issue a statement publicizing private family matters. My siblings’ statement has hurt our father’s legacy,” he said in a Facebook post.

“I will do my utmost to continue to do right by my parents. At the same time, I will continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my ability,” Lee added. He plans to “consider this matter further” after the trip.

A self-proclaimed authoritarian, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore’s first prime minister from 1959 to 1990. He commanded immense respect for turning Singapore into a success story but also fear. He jailed some political rivals without trial for decades and brought defamation lawsuits against journalists and opposition politicians, which had a chilling effect on dissent.

Last April, Lee and his sister disagreed over the host of public programs held to commemorate their father’s death. While Lee felt that the events were “generally appropriate,” his sister called it “hero-worship” and said that it was something her father stood against.

First Published: Jun 14, 2017 12:59 IST