I was in Singapore in March 2015 to cover the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore. The walls of his memorial hall were filled with sticky notes with messages such as “Thank you for making a beautiful country we call home” and “I pay respect to your lifelong devotion.” All the Singaporeans I met expressed their sorrow of losing their “founding father.” Despite some negative views on his dictatorship and denying the right to free speech, there seemed to be no disagreement that Lee Kuan Yew established the foundation of Singapore.
Under the charismatic leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has maintained its one-party rule. The People’s Action Party (PAP) has never had less than 80 seats in the Parliament since 1959. On the other hand, the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) won six seats, which was their best election result, in 2011. The National, a daily newspaper in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), wrote that Singapore had to achieve rapid economic development as a multiracial country and therefore had little tolerance for political dissent to stay prosperous and competitive.
Singapore’s political landscape is facing strong headwinds from feverish politicking and “war of brothers” in recent months. “The PAP is expected to win again but feverish politicking in recent months suggests the ground beneath the country is slowly beginning to shift,” wrote The National. Lee Kuan Yew’s second son, Lee Hsien Yang, is at the center of the political row.
Lee Kuan Yew has two sons and a daughter: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Neuroscience Institute chief Lee Wei Ling, and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore Chairman Lee Hsien Yang. “The Lee brothers were not close but had no major quarrels most of their lives,” wrote Reuters. But their relationship turned sour over a house his father lived in. Against their father’s dying instruction to demolish the house, the Prime Minister wanted to turn it into a museum and his younger brother fiercely protested the decision. Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang issued a statement in 2017, saying the prime minister is abusing his status and influence and idolizing his father to secure transfer of power to his son, Li Hongyi.
The family row has escalated ahead of the Singapore elections slated for next Friday. Lee Hsien Yang announced on June 24 that he is joining the new Progress Singapore Party (PSP). The PSP is a political party founded last month by Tan Cheng Bock, most high-profile critic of the government. Lee Hsien Yang said the members of the PSP are those who love Singapore and share the same vision. The local media are keen on whether Lee Hsien Yang will run for office. As of 1 p.m. on June 30, the deadline for candidates to register their intent to stand in the election, Lee Hsien Yang has not indicated if he will be running for office.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Yang said on Monday that the general election “is not about me or any family disputes” but about “Singapore’s future.” Lee Hsien Yang lashed back at his brother the next day through a statement on Facebook.
There is a slim chance that the opposition party will produce a surprising outcome in the election. But the PAP is not in a position to expect a landslide victory either. Former PAP lawmaker Inderjit Singh said Lee Hsien Yang’s presence in the opposition party could sway some of PAP supporters, who have given the party 60% of the vote. He also pointed out that when a son of Lee Kuan Yew supports the opposition party, people might start to doubt if the PAP of the present is not the same as the PAP of the past.