SINGAPORE – A storm is brewing, albeit in a teacup, between the children of the late Lee Kuan Yew. The daughter, Lee Wei Ling and younger son, Lee Hsien Yang, took to Facebook early Wednesday morning (June 14) to release a strongly-worded joint statement casting aspersions on their older brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
If you have not read the 2,524-word document titled “What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s Values?”, the gist of the whole issue is basically about Wei Ling and Hsien Yang being frustrated with Hsien Loong’s alleged plans to preserve their former family home at 38 Oxley Road against their father’s wishes.
If you were expecting a really short summary, that quote was it.
However, it is to be noted that the context of the cryptic press release beckons a question if there is an underlying motive by Wei Ling and Hsien Yang to discredit the prime minister.
Wei Ling and Hsien Yang had suggested that Hsien Loong may be harbouring political ambitions for their son, Li Hongyi, which the latter has since denied.
When Hsien Loong was interviewed in Nov 2014 by Chinese media on whether he would “encourage or lead them” into entering politics, he said, “I think they have to find their own path in life… They have to choose, because a child’s personality and aptitude have to be taken into consideration… they all have different natures, some may be more inclined towards the arts, some may be more interested in computers or science, this will have to be developed according to their interests.”
On a sidenote, Li Shengwu, the son of Hsien Yang, had posted this on his Facebook:
Hongyi is a deputy director of the Government Digital Services Data Science Division of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore – his LinkedIn profile here – while Shengwu is a Junior Research Fellow at Harvard University, with a core focus on Economics; see his CV here.
Comparing the background of Hsien Loong’s and Hsien Yang’s sons, one might wonder who has a more vested interest in pursuing political ambitions.
Would it not be far-fetched to assume that there may be an underlying motive by Hsien Yang to escalate something seemingly trivial to pave the way for his son’s entry into politics?
Maybe yes, perhaps not?
Wei Ling and Hsien Yang’s main gripe is that Hsien Loong is allowing for the family house at Oxley to be preserved instead of being demolished. To them, this is an explicit violation of their father’s exact wishes.
This was Lee Kuan Yew’s will with regard to the house:
“I further declare that it is my wish, and the wish of my late wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (“the House”) be demolished immediately after my death or, if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the law, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private.”
Lee Kuan Yew was first and foremost a public servant. When you have reached his level of legacy, what becomes of a private matter, unfortunately, ceases to exist – and the government can step in, in the interest of the wider populace. This is provided for by the preservation of sites and monuments law. As such, the Lee family does not get to decide if the house gets demolished or not.
Even so, preventing the demolition of the Oxley home against the wish of the deceased does not merit allegations of abuse of authority. It could also be implied that such plans furthers constructive discourse towards future generations keen to understand their roots and Singapore’s beginning – the very values that the late Mr Lee preached.
Despite the barrage of criticisms by Lee Wei Ling in the past years against her brother, PM Lee has so far refrained from reciprocating in kind.