SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A spat between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his younger sister has blown into the open, one year after the death of their iron-handed father Lee Kuan Yew, who brooked no discord within the city-state’s political world.
Lee’s sister accused the prime minister in a Facebook post of abusing his power and forming a political dynasty, a highly unusual public comment in Singapore. It has sparked an online debate in a country where the Lee family is mostly held in high regard and where several of its critics have been sued for defamation.
“I am deeply saddened by my sister Dr. Lee Wei Ling’s claim that I have abused my power to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing in order to establish a dynasty. The accusations are completely untrue,” the prime minister said in a Facebook page on Sunday evening.
It was not immediately clear why the younger Lee accused her brother of forming a political “dynasty” or why she went public with the criticism. There has been no suggestion that any of the prime minister’s children would be keen to enter politics.
The prime minister’s post was viewed by about 18,000 readers, many of who commented that they were dismayed and saddened by the spat, and shared over 2,500 times. It was the lead front-page article in the pro-government Straits Times, the country’s biggest newspaper, and also covered by state-owned television.
The prime minister’s office declined further comment on Monday.
The people of Singapore are not used to political spats. The People’s Action Party, which has ruled the city-state since it won independence over 50 years ago, works by consensus and open criticism of public figures is rare.
The prime minister’s sister, a doctor, said she disapproved of the public activities held by the government in March to mark the first death anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister.
In an article submitted to the Straits Times last month, she had said Lee Kuan Yew would have “cringed at the hero worship just one year after his death”. The newspaper did not publish the article and she posted it online.
Straits Times Editor Warren Fernandez said the newspaper’s editors were working with her to get it ready for print. “But some concerns arose, including over the plagiarized paragraphs. In addition, we found her ultimatum to either print her piece unedited or she would go online, totally unacceptable.”
In a Facebook post detailing her exchanges with the newspaper’s editors, which has since been removed, the sister said, using the initials of her brother and father:
“HL has no qualms about abusing his power to hv (sic) a commemoration just one year after LKY died” and that “if the power that be wants to establish a dynasty, LKY’s daughter will not allow LKY’s name to be sullied by a dishonorable son.”
She has also denied plagiarism.
Singapore maintains strict control on the media and its leaders have in the past sued or settled out of court with several foreign media publications for alleged defamatory remarks. Prime Minister Lee has also sued an online critic.
The prime minister’s sister regularly published columns expressing personal views about Singapore and her father in the Straits Times in past years.
Prime Minister Lee and his party won a convincing general election victory last year, months after the founding prime minister died in March 2015.
“The idea that I should wish to establish a dynasty makes even less sense,” the prime minister said in his post. “Meritocracy is a fundamental value of our society, and neither I, the PAP, nor the Singapore public would tolerate any such attempt.”
Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan