What a Family Feud Reveals About Singapore’s Political Future

What a Family Feud Reveals About Singapore’s Political Future
The prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, ahead of talks with German Chancellor Merkel in Berlin, July 6, 2017 (DPA photo by Wolfgang via AP).

Since June, Singapore has been gripped by a public spat between the three children of the city-state’s revered founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, over the future of a family home. While some have downplayed the episode—which involves Singapore’s current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee’s eldest son—as a mere family feud, in reality the dispute reflects broader concerns about the future of Singapore’s politics and the government’s ability to manage domestic and foreign policy changes in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era.

The heart of the dispute is technically over what to do with a bungalow at 38 Oxley Road, in a leafy area of Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew lived most of his life as he transformed the island from a tiny undeveloped country in 1965 into one of the world’s most prosperous societies. While no doubt aware that state interests could eventually take precedence over his personal wishes, Lee Kuan Yew wanted the house to be demolished eventually, rather than memorialized as a museum or landmark. He articulated his wishes repeatedly during his life, including most recently in his will. His younger son, Lee Hsien Yang, and his only daughter, Lee Wei Ling, shared his view. But Lee Hsien Loong argued that it should ultimately be left up to the government to determine the house’s fate.

Though a dispute over the house had long been simmering, it boiled over on June 14. That’s when Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang accused their bother, in a sharply worded statement posted on Facebook, of not only not respecting their father’s wishes, but abusing state power to get his way as prime minister. He was using their father’s legacy for his own political benefit and that of his son, Li Hongyi, they alleged.

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