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Monday, July 17, 2017

Singapore, a Model of Orderly Rule, Is Jolted by a Bitter Family Feud

 
The Lee family relaxes at 38 Oxley Road in 1965. From left to right, Kwa Geok Choo, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Yang (seated), Lee Hsien Loong (standing), Lee Wei Ling.THE LEE FAMILY 

Singapore, a Model of Orderly Rule, Is Jolted by a Bitter Family Feud

A property battle among children of the city-state’s late founding father Lee Kuan Yew has burst into public view, drawing government attention and allegations of impropriety.


Wall Street Journal | 14 July 2017

SINGAPORE—This affluent Asian city-state is known as one of the world’s most orderly places, dominated for decades by a well-educated and accomplished family.
Now the clan that made Singapore into a global model of efficiency and control has itself come undone—largely over a century-old bungalow that was the family home.
The house, near Singapore’s toniest shopping district, was owned for decades by the city-state’s founding premier, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015.
His two youngest children insist Mr. Lee unequivocally wanted it demolished. The eldest—Singapore’s current prime minister—says he as a son wants to honor his father’s wishes, but that Lee Kuan Yew had considered alternatives for the house if the government, acting independently of the premier, decides to preserve it. Their father’s will went through many versions, including two that didn’t call for demolition, though the final one did.
A woman jogs past the house of Singapore's late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
A woman jogs past the house of Singapore's late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
The disagreement erupted into a full-fledged public battle in recent weeks, shocking Singaporeans with allegations of abuse of power and secretive revisions to Lee Kuan Yew’s will.
One sibling said he will go into exile, after he and his sister posted a statement on Facebook questioning Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s “character, conduct, motives and leadership” and suggesting their elder brother wanted to keep the house intact to burnish his political standing.
The prime minister blasted the charges as “baseless,” saying he didn’t abuse power and “tried my best to resolve the issues among us within the family.” He publicly apologized for damage the allegations have caused to Singapore’s reputation, and fielded two days of questioning on the matter in parliament—sessions his younger brother called a “whitewash.”
“In any other imaginable circumstance than this, I would have sued immediately,” Prime Minister Lee told lawmakers. He and other leaders have previously won defamation cases against opposition politicians and others. But the prime minister said he’s reluctant to take his siblings to court, as it would “besmirch” his parents’ names and prolong the dispute.
A spokeswoman said the prime minister wasn’t available for interviews.
Previously undisclosed emails and other correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show the siblings began fighting in private at least two years ago, eventually communicating only through emails and lawyers, with each accusing the other side of misrepresenting their late father’s wishes.
The dispute has prompted many Singaporeans to openly criticize the Lee family on social media and question Singapore’s ruling party, whose success was built in part around the belief that Singapore’s leaders were above reproach.
Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at an event at the presidential palace in 2017.
Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, at an event at the presidential palace in 2017. PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Lee Kuan Yew created a nation built around the notions of “meritocracy and governance integrity,” said Garry Rodan, a professor at Australia’s Murdoch University who follows Singapore affairs closely. “Yet now so many of the claims about meritocratic rule and governance integrity are being challenged from within his family.”
A government spokesman dismissed concerns over the feud’s impact, saying Singapore is “highly rated on international assessments of governance.”
Prime Minister Lee’s siblings called for a truce in recent days, but threatened to resume public criticism if a settlement isn’t reached. The premier responded by saying he too wants to resolve the dispute privately.
That would please many in the political establishment. “Stop your family quarrel,” Goh Chok Tong, who served nearly 14 years as prime minister between the two Lees, told parliament this month. “If that is not immediately possible, at least stop making things worse.”
Lee Kuan Yew repeatedly said he wanted his house torn down after he died, lest it become a symbol of a personality cult that could retard Singapore’s political development. His two younger children say he referenced the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem, “Ozymandias,” about an Egyptian pharaoh whose works crumbled in the desert.
Many Singaporeans want to preserve Mr. Lee’s house anyway, like George Washington’s Mount Vernon. In emails between Mr. Lee and his family, reviewed by the Journal, the patriarch acknowledged that Singapore’s government could block his wishes, as it has the power to take over private property in the public interest.
Happier times: the Lee family outside their home. From left to right, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Wei Ling and Kwa Geok Choo.
Happier times: the Lee family outside their home. From left to right, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Wei Ling and Kwa Geok Choo. PHOTO: THE LEE FAMILY
Mr. Lee first moved into the home at 38 Oxley Road, built in an area once home to nutmeg plantations and fruit orchards, in 1945.
He hosted discussions in the basement dining room that led to the 1954 founding of the People’s Action Party, which has controlled Singapore since it became self-governing in 1959.
As prime minister from 1959 to 1990, Mr. Lee combined pro-business policies with zero tolerance for corruption to transform Singapore into one of the world’s richest countries.
Lee Kuan Yew, leader of Singapore’s People's Action Party, celebrated after winning the elections on June 3, 1959.
Lee Kuan Yew, leader of Singapore’s People's Action Party, celebrated after winning the elections on June 3, 1959. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
He also implemented what foreign media described as a paternalistic style of governance, including a ban on the sale of chewing gum, relaxed slightly in 2004. Western critics said his policies stifled political opposition and turned Singapore into a “nanny state.”
At home, he was simply “Papa,” raising a family imbued in his values of thrift, hard work and excellence.
Lee Hsien Loong, whose given name means “illustrious dragon,” was born in 1952, followed by sister Lee Wei Ling in 1955 and brother Lee Hsien Yang in 1957. Photos and writings of their childhood showed a close-knit family playing chess and spending holidays at Malayan hill stations.
Discipline was kept by their mother, sometimes with a cane. The children didn’t have friends over for birthdays and received only books as gifts, Lee Wei Ling recalled in a local newspaper column.
Lee Hsien Loong graduated from Cambridge as the top mathematician of his class before returning to Singapore, where he held ministerial portfolios in trade and finance before becoming premier in 2004.
“I think he got the best combination of our two DNAs,” Lee Kuan Yew said in an interview published in 2011, referring to Lee Hsien Loong and his parents.
Family Affair

The family of Lee Kuan Yew has been a pillar of Singapore's establishment for decades.

Photos: Associated Press; Agence France-Presse/Getty Images (3); European Pressphoto Agency; Getty Images (2); the Lee Family (2)

Lee Wei Ling, a self-described tomboy who earned a black belt in karate, graduated at the top of her medical-school class in Singapore and became director of the city-state’s National Neuroscience Institute.
Described by her father as “intense,” she never married and still lives at 38 Oxley Road. For exercise, she’d jog up and down a corridor hundreds of times, covering up to 20 kilometers over several hours—a regimen she conceded was “a little mad,” in remarks published in the local Straits Times newspaper.
Lee Hsien Yang followed his brother to Cambridge and earned an engineering degree with high honors. He was “playful and did not study too hard,” with “a calmer temperament,” his sister wrote.
He was chief executive of local telecommunications firm SingTel from 1995 to 2007 and became chairman of Singapore’s civil-aviation authority in 2009.
As adults, the siblings lunched with their parents at Oxley Road on Sundays.
Shortly after his wife’s death, in 2010, Lee Kuan Yew wrote a letter to Singapore’s cabinet saying the house “should not be kept as a kind of relic.” He said he’d seen the final residence of Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which was kept as a monument “with people tramping in and out” and “became shabby.”
Cognizant that many Singaporeans wanted 38 Oxley Road saved, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong invited his father to a July 2011 cabinet meeting to discuss the property’s fate, and then recused himself from the debate, according to the premier and other officials.
Cabinet members told the elder Mr. Lee the bungalow shouldn’t be destroyed, officials said later. That evening, Lee Kuan Yew appeared “sad and exasperated,” according to his daughter, who greeted him at home.
A view of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan residence on June 14, 2017.
A view of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan residence on June 14, 2017. PHOTO: EDGAR SU/REUTERS
A month later, Lee Kuan Yew signed a will saying the house should be torn down after his death, unless his daughter wanted to remain there, in which case it should be demolished after she’s gone. If Singaporean law prevented demolition, the will said, the house should “never be opened to others” except his children, along with their families and descendants.
Mr. Lee then told the cabinet in a December 2011 letter that if the government decided to preserve his house, it should be refurbished and remain a residence. The patriarch later approved a renovation plan for the property, though in an email to family members, seen by the Journal, he suggested the proposal could be irrelevant since the government seemed likely to take over his property.
In late 2012, Mr. Lee removed from his will his wish to demolish the house or limit access should it be preserved. Correspondence between Mr. Lee and his personal lawyer before the revision, reviewed by the Journal, suggest the patriarch believed his home was already being designated as a heritage site, or soon would be—something his lawyer later confirmed hadn’t happened.
Prime Minister Lee in parliament this month denied allegations made by his siblings that he deceived his father over the property’s fate. He said he merely told Lee Kuan Yew that many Singaporeans and cabinet ministers supported preservation, and explained that it would be difficult for him, even as prime minister, to override those wishes.
The demolition clause, including what’s to be done if the house can’t be razed, reappeared in the final will Mr. Lee signed in December 2013, according to a copy reviewed by the Journal. Prime Minister Lee has raised concerns about that change, saying it was made with help from Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, who sent text via email for Lee Kuan Yew to sign.
Prime Minister Lee said he wasn’t copied on the emails and didn’t learn of the changes until after his father died. Lee Hsien Yang said there was nothing improper with the revised will, and that his father had wanted it settled quickly.
Family members participate in Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral on March 29, 2015. In second row from left to right are Lee Suet Fern and husband Lee Hsien Yang, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching and Lee Wei Ling.
Family members participate in Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral on March 29, 2015. In second row from left to right are Lee Suet Fern and husband Lee Hsien Yang, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching and Lee Wei Ling. PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lee Kuan Yew died in March 2015 at age 91. Three weeks later, his survivors gathered at 38 Oxley Road for a reading of the last will.
Almost immediately, the siblings started arguing. At one point, the younger siblings allegedly issued what Prime Minister Lee called “an ultimatum” to him ahead of a September 2015 election, according to statements made by the premier, who said he perceived a threat to take the dispute public during the campaign.
Lee Hsien Yang said the younger siblings had been exchanging legal correspondence with Prime Minister Lee for months and didn’t intentionally time any for the electoral season. The ruling PAP won nearly 70% of the vote and 83 seats in an 89-member parliament.
Public signs of the family crackup surfaced months later, in April 2016. Dismayed by what she considered hagiographic state-backed efforts to commemorate her late father, Lee Wei Ling published on Facebook email exchanges with a local newspaper editor in which she called her elder brother a “dishonorable son” attempting to “establish a dynasty.”
That same day, Prime Minister Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, posted on Facebook an image of a monkey extending a middle finger. The image reinforced speculation in local media of a feud. Ms. Ho, who is chief executive of state investment firm Temasek Holdings, later deleted the image and apologized for what she called an accidental post.
In mid-2016, the government established a ministerial committee to consider options for 38 Oxley Road, including turning it into a memorial park if the house is demolished. Prime Minister Lee later said he had no role in setting up the committee, doesn’t participate in its discussions, and gives no instructions to its members, since he has recused himself from government deliberations on the house.
The four-member panel queried Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling about preparations for Lee Kuan Yew’s last will, prompting them to accuse Prime Minister Lee of using the panel to question their father’s wishes. They allege that was an abuse of power because the committee comprises the prime minister’s subordinates and inquired about a family dispute the siblings believe should be heard in court.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the committee, later said it isn’t trying to investigate the will’s validity. He said its role is to come up with options for the Oxley Road house to facilitate a future government’s decision on its fate.
The will was deemed valid by a Singapore court in October 2015. Prime Minister Lee didn’t raise objections during that process, but later told the committee he had “grave concerns” about the will’s preparation.
Frustrated by the committee’s work, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang escalated matters, publishing a six-page statement on Facebook June 14.
In it, they accused the prime minister of harboring “political ambitions” for one of his sons and said he was trying to “milk” their father’s legacy.
Lee Hsien Yang, younger brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in 2017.
Lee Hsien Yang, younger brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in 2017. PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Lee Hsien Yang said he would leave Singapore for the “foreseeable future” because of his elder brother, though he hasn’t set a date.
Prime Minister Lee responded by releasing a 3,900-word statement outlining concerns over his father’s last will and dismissed claims he was grooming his son for public office. The son has denied interest in entering politics.
In parliament, Prime Minister Lee rejected claims he was motivated to save the home for political purposes. “If I needed such magic properties to bolster my standing after 13 years as your prime minister, I must be in a pretty sad state,” he said.
Prime Minister Lee’s supporters have suggested his brother wants to demolish the property—worth an estimated $17 million including land—so it can be redeveloped for the brother’s profit. The brother says that’s untrue and that a major redevelopment would require zoning changes approved by government.
Officials have offered compromise proposals, including preserving only the basement dining room, while adding a heritage center. No decision is necessary as long as Lee Wei Ling continues living there, and she said she plans to do so. She is 62 years old.

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:31 PM

    The YUON's CPP rank and file, doctors, lawyers, business communities big and small and the Cambodian youth will discreetly abandon Hun Sen on this 2018 election for the CNRP [with or without Kem Sokha and Sam Raingsy]. And there is nothing HUN SEN can do about it. They will take HUN SEN's money to discreetly vote for the CNRP... Bravo the Khmer people [without Hun Sen]!!!
    Yup, this is the end of the road for the YUON's troll/propagandist here on T2P and everywhere else as we know it! The Yuon's trolls will end up in Hun Sen's black dossier for sure...

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  2. Anonymous2:33 PM

    Hun Manet shall rule after his father.

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    1. Anonymous11:34 PM

      He then needs to get rid of his vicious dogs. He can not bring his dogs to someone's house and let the dogs bite the home owner.
      He behaved real good though, along with his 2 siblings ,when his dad brought all of them to pay respect to grandpa Ho in Hanoi.

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