House debate: What's at stake

Oxley Road dispute: All eyes on PM Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on Monday

He aims to restore public confidence in his leadership and in his Government in wake of allegations of abuse of power by his siblings

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver a ministerial statement tomorrow to respond to the barrage of allegations by his siblings that he misused his power, in what is likely to be the most closely watched Parliament debate in years.

In doing so, he hopes to restore public confidence and dispel any doubts that have been planted by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, who have accused him of misusing his power in a bid to prevent their late father's house at 38, Oxley Road from being demolished.

The feud between the Lee siblings had erupted into the public sphere on June 14, when Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee posted a statement on Facebook to say they had lost confidence in their older brother's leadership, and feared the use of organs of state against them.

They also made many other allegations against him, such as that he used his position as prime minister to influence a ministerial committee considering options for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's house.

In response, PM Lee issued a statement the next day through his lawyers, in which he raised questions and serious concerns about the preparation of his father's last will.

His siblings fired back on Facebook, criticising PM Lee, his wife Ho Ching, and the "secret" ministerial committee which they claimed was focused solely on challenging the validity of the last will.

The public airing of the dispute prompted PM Lee to apologise to the nation for the harm it caused to Singapore's reputation and Singaporeans' confidence in the Government.

 
 

He noted that his siblings' "baseless allegations" extended to the conduct of his office and the Government's integrity - which made it necessary to have a "full, public airing" in Parliament, and, in a rare move, lift the party whip so all MPs can examine the issues thoroughly.

Political observers say the dispute ceased to be a private family matter when it started playing out on social media in full view of the public, with allegations that PM Lee had abused his power.

Says Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute: "It has become a national story with global implications for Singapore's image and reputation as a country that has always been on top of things with a well-functioning government and an existing social compact between the Government and the people of Singapore."

BROAD IMPLICATIONS

It has become a national story with global implications for Singapore's image and reputation as a country that has always been on top of things with a well-functioning government and an existing social compact between the Government and the people of Singapore.

DR MUSTAFA IZZUDDIN, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, on how the dispute ceased to be a private family matter when it started playing out on social media.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will also deliver a ministerial statement tomorrow, on the ministerial committee that he set up and chairs to consider options for the Oxley Road property.

These range from demolition to preservation, and include intermediate options like demolishing the house but keeping the basement dining room with a heritage centre attached.

Tomorrow's debate will not be the first time the government of the day tackles issues related to its integrity in Parliament.

In 1996, Parliament spent three days debating the sales of condominium units by developer Hotel Properties at discounted rates to then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee's standing, as well as public trust and confidence in his leadership, is at stake this time, says Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University's School of Law.

He notes that to the public, the endorsement of Parliament is taken as a "foregone conclusion" as it is dominated by MPs from the People's Action Party, which PM Lee leads.

"Ultimately, PM Lee will have to prevail in the court of public opinion," he says.

"How he goes about defending himself and his Government matters immensely to Singaporeans."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'All eyes on PM Lee in Parliament tomorrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe