x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Singapore PM denies nepotism amid family feud in parliament speech

Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong's brother and sister have accused him of exploiting their father's legacy for his own political agenda, and seeking to groom his son to become leader of the city-state.

Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong tells parliament on July 3, 2017 that he does not want to sue his brother and sister who have attacked him on Facebook accusing him of nepotism. Parliament House of Singapore/Handout via Reuters
Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong tells parliament on July 3, 2017 that he does not want to sue his brother and sister who have attacked him on Facebook accusing him of nepotism. Parliament House of Singapore/Handout via Reuters

Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday rejected claims from his siblings that he abused power and engaged in nepotism as he faced parliament over a family feud that has shocked Singapore.

But the prime minister said he will not sue his brother and sister for their online attacks over the legacy of their father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding leader. The city-state has long been used to censorship and libel suits against critics of the family.

"Their allegations are entirely baseless," Mr Lee, 65, told a regularly scheduled session of parliament.

His sister Wei Ling, 62, and brother Hsien Yang, 60, had accused the premier of exploiting their father's legacy for his own political agenda, and seeking to groom his son Li Hongyi, now a senior public servant involved in government data services, to become leader of the city-state one day.

The row - which erupted into the open last month - is an escalation of a dispute over what to do with a family bungalow. The incident has simmered since 2015, after the death of the elder Lee, who ruled Singapore with an iron hand but transformed the country into one of the world's wealthiest.

The prime minister called for an open debate in parliament after the attacks on Facebook against him and his wife Ho Ching, who is chief executive of state investment fund Temasek Holdings.

Mr Lee apologised for a second time over the quarrel and rejected charges of nepotism. He said the head of Temasek is appointed by its board subject to confirmation by the president of Singapore, and that his son has already said he was not interested in politics.

The allegations "have already damaged Singapore's reputation", he told parliament.

"Unrebutted, they can affect Singaporeans' confidence in the government."

Mr Lee said Singaporeans were "tired of the subject, and wish it would end".

However, he added that he would not sue his siblings because a lawsuit might drag on for years and "further besmirch my parents' names".

At the centre of the fight is the century-old bungalow which their father wanted destroyed after he passed away to prevent the creation of a personality cult.

The siblings said the prime minister is attempting to block its demolition to capitalise on their father's legacy, including grooming his own son to be a third-generation leader - a charge Mr Lee and his wife have denied.

The row focuses on a clause in Lee's final will which stated that the old family home should be demolished after his death or after his unmarried daughter moves out.

Lee Kuan Yew feared the house would become a monument, with strangers walking through the family's private quarters.

The prime minister said that despite a "demolition clause" governing the house in the final will, his father was "prepared to consider alternatives" and even approved renovation plans should the government decide against tearing it down.

The sparsely furnished five-bedroom house in Oxley Road was built in the late 19th century in what used to be a plantation district, and gained value as Singapore became urbanised and prosperous.

The land, located off the posh Orchard Road shopping belt, is estimated by property agents to be worth $24 million Singapore dollars (Dh63.8m).

The Lees are the closest thing Singapore has to royalty, dominating the now wealthy island's politics for nearly six decades.

Lee Kuan Yew served as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, and his son has been in power since 2004. The city-state has had only one other prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.

* Agence France-Presse