Oxley Road saga

Family feud stuns nation

A 2am post on Facebook by PM Lee's siblings brings a simmering family row out into the open

The feud over the family house at 38, Oxley Road, came like a bolt from the blue for Singaporeans. PHOTO: ST FILE

While most Singaporeans were fast asleep on June 14, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's siblings posted a statement on Facebook saying they had lost confidence in him.

The 2am post on both Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang's Facebook pages brought a simmering family row out into the open, with accusations and counter-accusations that left a nation stunned, saddened and bewildered.

The quarrel was over the family house at 38, Oxley Road.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang alleged that PM Lee wanted the bungalow preserved against the wishes of their father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. They accused him of doing it for political gain, and also alluded to their fear of the use of organs of state against them.

In the ensuing weeks, PM Lee denied the allegations and said he was disappointed his siblings had chosen to publicise a private family matter. It culminated in a two-day parliamentary debate on his alleged abuse of power involving the house.

The family feud came like a bolt from the blue for Singaporeans. While the issue of the Oxley Road family home had been in the news after Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015 - Mr Lee had wanted it to be demolished but there were calls for it to be turned into a memorial - public chatter had died down after PM Lee said a decision was not yet required as Dr Lee would continue to live there.

Since early July, the dispute appears to have been taken out of the public arena, with an uneasy peace prevailing, for now. Contempt of court proceedings against PM Lee's nephew, Mr Li Shengwu, over a Facebook post he made on the dispute, are ongoing meanwhile as well.

Political analyst Felix Tan of SIM Global Education noted that the saga did not seem to have affected the Government's international reputation as being "clean and efficient".

But Singaporeans were "turned off", he added, with PM Lee's reputation taking a hit in the process.

Academic Cherian George, however, noted in his latest book, titled Singapore, Incomplete, that even as PM Lee's personal reputation may have been somewhat bruised, his siblings showed no desire to rally supporters around them or encourage a new leader to emerge.

"So far, the controversy has only underlined the PAP's resilience", he wrote, in reference to the ruling People's Action Party.

One broader question that the episode has thrown up, he said, is how the Government reacts to critics - including those within the establishment like PM Lee's siblings, and whether "its tolerance for alternative views will progressively diminish".

Another question, said political watcher Derek da Cunha, is whether the family row could indicate that there could be other brewing conflicts currently out of sight. "If there is discord within Singapore's leading family, people will understandably wonder whether there is similar discord or much worse elsewhere within the Singapore establishment."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline Family feud stuns nation. Subscribe