Family conflict gets wide media coverage

Lee Kuan Yew (centre) and his family celebrate his 80th birthday in Singapore, September 16, 2003. (From left) daughter-in-law Lee Suet Fern, son Lee Hsien Yang, Chief Justice Tong Pung How, daughter Lee Wei Ling, Lee, wife Kwa Geok Choo, son Lee Hsi
Lee Kuan Yew (centre) and his family celebrate his 80th birthday in Singapore, September 16, 2003. (From left) daughter-in-law Lee Suet Fern, son Lee Hsien Yang, Chief Justice Tong Pung How, daughter Lee Wei Ling, Lee, wife Kwa Geok Choo, son Lee Hsien Loong, daughter-in-law Ho Ching and granddaughter Li Xiuqi. PHOTO: REUTERS

Social media was abuzz yesterday as Singaporeans woke up to the news of a renewed public dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Many responded with concern at what they saw as the airing of dirty linen in public. "Domestic affairs should not meddle with the nation's interest. What will the other nations think when they see this? I hope it won't lower the nation's bargaining power," said Mr Chason Li Zhong Ng on Facebook.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had posted a statement on Facebook yesterday saying, among other things, that they had lost confidence in their brother.

PM Lee, who is overseas on leave, responded in a statement saying he was disappointed and saddened by his siblings "publicising private family matters".

Many netizens, commenting on PM Lee's Facebook page, were supportive of his position.

Those commending PM Lee's two siblings praised them for publicly airing their concerns on the running of the country.

Mr Alvin Teo said on Facebook: "The PM's integrity and character are a matter of public interest. I'm glad there's someone in the family who speaks up (though their claims cannot be verified yet)."

Some felt that Mr Lee Hsien Yang's statement that he would leave the country was a poor example to set for fellow Singaporeans.

"If you truly love your country, stay. Work out your differences and forgive," said Facebook user Carmen Luanne Choy.

Stories on the spat by mainstream and alternative media were shared widely. It was the top-read story on The Straits Times' website after it was published.

The saga gained much traction in international media as well, and was widely reported by wire agencies and news outlets such as The New York Times, Agence France-Presse, Financial Times, BBC and The Star.

It was the most viewed story on the South China Morning Post international website, with the headline, "Siblings of Singapore PM 'fear for their safety', accusing him of harassment and trashing Lee Kuan Yew's values".

The statement by the duo centres on a long-running dispute over the fate of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38, Oxley Road.

The siblings reiterated their late father's wish for the house to be demolished after his death, and said PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had opposed this wish.

Some netizens in their comments called for the late Mr Lee's wishes to be respected, while others said the house should be preserved as a national monument to inspire future generations.

Facebook users Simon Tan and Terence Foong suggested that there might be a way to please both parties - creating a 3D map of the house to let Singaporeans visit it in virtual reality even after it is demolished.

"The Government's view to preserve the house as a legacy for future generations is not wrong, but going against the wishes of our late (Mr Lee Kuan Yew) will make it tough," said Mr Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2017, with the headline 'Family conflict gets wide media coverage'. Print Edition | Subscribe