1. What’s the fight about?
It centers on 38 Oxley Road, a colonial-era bungalow near the glitzy Orchard Road shopping belt in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew lived there for most of his 91 years and his will included a wish for the property eventually to be demolished; he said in a 2011 interview it was to avoid the cost of preserving it and the risk that it would fall into disrepair. The demolition would only happen after his daughter, Dr. Lee Wei Ling, moves out. All three siblings have said they want to honor the demolition request. But the two younger ones in 2017 accused their brother, the prime minister, of maneuvering to undermine their father’s instructions, citing the existence of a ministerial committee exploring options for the property. Prime Minister Lee, or PM Lee as he’s called, denied the allegations. His deputy said the committee wasn’t secret and had to review the situation in case Dr. Lee, who is a senior adviser at Singapore’s National Neuroscience Institute, moves out.
2. What’s the significance of the house?
As well as being on prime real estate, 38 Oxley Road is seen by many as part of the country’s history and Lee’s legacy, a place where pioneers met and made critical decisions that helped Singapore become Southeast Asia’s richest nation. The elder Lee was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 and a founding member of the People’s Action Party, which has been in power since Singapore’s independence in 1965. Cushman & Wakefield in 2017 estimated the value of the house, which stands on a plot of just over a quarter acre, or about 1,100 square meters, at about S$25 million, or $18 million.
3. Who owns it now?
PM Lee says he inherited it and sold it to his brother, donating the proceeds to charity. He said in 2015 he had recused himself from all government decisions regarding the house. Lee Hsien Yang hasn’t commented publicly about his intentions.
4. So the house will be demolished?
It’s unclear. The ministerial committee published a report in 2018 laying out three options: Demolition; retaining the property as a national monument; or keeping the basement dining room, where important meetings took place, in a park or as part of a heritage center. It left any decision to a future government. It also said that Lee Kuan Yew had been “prepared to accept options other than demolition” provided that the house was kept in a habitable state and the family’s privacy was protected.
5. What impact has the spat had on Singapore politics?
Very little, so far anyway. PM Lee retains broad popular support. He has signaled he doesn’t want to stay in office beyond 2022, when he turns 70, and has been grooming a group of younger ministers for succession, with deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also finance minister, tipped to eventually take over the top job. The PAP’s grip on power has been tight. In the last election in 2015 -- just months after the elder Lee died -- the party won nearly 70% of the popular vote and secured 83 of 89 seats up for grabs.
6. What about the opposition?
It’s struggled to gain traction in a risk-averse country, although the arrival of Lee Hsien Yang could raise its profile. The former chief executive officer of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. and an ex-chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore was announced a member of the recently founded Progress Singapore Party on June 24, but didn’t say if he planned to run for office. He cited issues such as income inequality, governance and transparency and housing as among his concerns, and has endorsed the party chief, Tan Cheng Bock, as the leader Singapore “deserves.”
7. Have the siblings resolved their differences?
Hardly. The discord had been simmering long before the younger Lees posted their initial broadside on Facebook, in which they accused the prime minister of misusing his position to advance his own agenda and of harboring political ambitions for one of his sons. PM Lee addressed the charges in a debate in parliament in July 2017, which he said produced no evidence to back allegations of abuse of power. The feud re-emerged in 2019 after the attorney general’s office asked the Law Society to look into possible misconduct by Hsien Yang’s wife, Lee Suet Fern, over her role in preparing Lee Kuan Yew’s final will. A disciplinary tribunal in February found her guilty of professional misconduct, which she disputed, and the case was referred to the highest disciplinary body for lawyers. Separately, the attorney general’s office opened contempt of court proceedings in 2017 against Li Shengwu -- one of Hsien Yang and Suet Fern’s sons -- over a Facebook post. That case is pending as well.
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.