Will a parliamentary hearing make Singapore PM's problems go away?
Posted June 20
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong is on the back foot.
Last week, the country was shocked when Lee's younger siblings accused him of abusing his power, acting against public interest and lying to parliament on whether the house of their father -- Lee Kuan Yew -- should be demolished.
Lee apologized in a video broadcast on national television Monday for the damages the allegations may have done to the country's reputation abroad and Singaporeans' confidence in their government.
He also said he will take the issue to parliament and allow members to question him openly and candidly.
At first blush, the prime minister seemed to have scored some brownie points in lowering the political temperature. But as Singaporeans mull it over, questions began to surface.
Why is parliament being dragged into this? This is a fight to be settled in a court of law or during an open inquiry, said former ruling People's Action Party (PAP) MP Tan Cheng Bock, who is challenging the government on the holding of presidential elections in September.
Will MPs stand up for Singapore and ask their boss difficult and probing questions? Rigorous questioning of power is not in the Singaporean psyche in parliament or out. With a lopsided chamber packed with government lawmakers and just a tiny sprinkling of opposition members, who are often shouted down by their PAP colleagues, a decisive debate is unlikely.
What's the point when the chief accusers won't be taking part? Both Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling won't be in parliament to answer questions or respond to points being made. The siblings' strategy so far has been to post revelations and accusations on social media from overseas. It looks like they are still holding some cards close to their chest to be revealed later in order to keep the pot boiling.
Lee Kuan Yew's 38 Oxley Road home is a pre-war bungalow the country's founding father had lived in since the 1940s. In his will, the elder Lee had asked for the building to be demolished immediately after his death, or if his daughter, Wei Ling, preferred to live in it, after she moved out.
All three of Lee's children publicly issued a statement in 2015, saying they hoped the state would honor their father's wishes. Lee Hsien Loong also said he would recuse himself from all government decisions involving the home. An online survey that same year found that a majority of the Singaporeans polled supported the demolition of the house.
However, in their explosive statement last week, Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang claimed the prime minister and his wife are behind what is represented as government initiatives to preserve the house.
They further alleged Lee Hsien Loong threatened them and demanded their silence over their father's wishes "hoping to inherit the faith Singaporeans had in Lee Kuan Yew through the visible symbol of the house."
Lee's siblings' attacks have so far been very direct and pointed, selectively releasing details of their father's will and email correspondence.
In direct contrast, the prime minister has tried to take the moral high ground by making only vague accusations about the role of the wife of his younger brother and hinting the dispute is actually about money.
In a statement posted to Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page, the PM says his father made seven wills between 2011 and 2015. Only the first two included the so-called "demolition cause." However, despite the elder Lee asking for it to be removed, it "somehow found it way back into the Last Will," the statement said.
The final will also reverted to Lee's earlier decision to give each of his three children an equal share in the Estate, effectively increasing the amount inherited by Lee Hsien Yang, the statement said.
Lee's position, as his family's patriarch and the country's leader, has limited his ability to launch full-frontal attacks on his brother and sister.
The parliamentary meeting on July 3 will be an opportunity for Lee to clear his name, but in doing so he will have no choice to throw light on a number of issues that have unsettled many Singaporeans, including:
Was there a conspiracy to get Lee Kuan Yew to reinstate the clause to demolish the house? Why was a ministerial committee appointed to look into options for the property with Lee's siblings and the public being kept out of the loop? Was there any conflict of interest in the appointing of Lee's lawyer in the property, 63-year-old Lucien Wong, to replace 60-year-old V K Rajah as attorney general?
The edifice Lee Kuan Yew built and nurtured is crumbling. It is the responsibility of the prime minister to make sure it remains intact.
It remains to be seen whether MPs will ask the tough questions necessary to elicit hard truths from the prime minister, and what his siblings' next moves will be.