Singapore’s biggest sibling rivalry saw its most storied turn last Wednesday, 24 June, when Lee Hsien Yang, the estranged brother of the city-state’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, formally joined the opposition ahead of the 10 July general election.
Hsien Yang, 62, is now a card-carrying member of the Progress Singapore Party, a new party formed by establishment rebel Tan Cheng Bock. The former corporate figure said that “it’s not difficult to guess” what his contributions to the party will be. However, he has denied that he will challenge the ruling People’s Action Party in the polls. He has been accompanying party colleagues on walkabouts and openly endorsing the opposition on social media.
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Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has joined the Progress Singapore Party (PSP). But the party did not say whether he will be running in this General Election (GE). The party announced this on Wednesday (June 24), a day after Parliament was dissolved and the Election Department announced Singapore would go to the polls on July 10. More in the #linkinbio
The two brothers are the children of the country’s late founder, Lee Kuan Yew, who also co-founded the PAP. Their rivalry started publicly in 2017 in a family spat over the fate of Kuan Yew’s bungalow, starring Hsien Loong, the eldest of three, and his two siblings Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling.
The younger siblings had then accused their brother on social media of abusing his executive powers to scuttle their efforts to demolish the family bungalow as their father wanted. Their rivalry was exacerbated by Hsien Yang’s announcement last year that he “wholeheartedly” supported the then-newly formed PSP.
The prime minister later denied the claims before Parliament, saying that he had recused himself from the government’s decision-making process on the issue, adding later that the government would not change the status quo of the house owned by Hsien Yang and occupied by Wei Ling as long as the latter continues to live there. At odds with his older brother since then, Hsien Yang has occasionally made public attacks on the prime minister on his Facebook page, the latest being a post last week that coincided with the third anniversary of the start of the public feud.
He shared a post written by his sister saying that events since 2017 have reinforced the younger siblings’ assertion back then that they did not trust their elder brother as a brother or leader. Tan said Hsien Yang had joined the PSP about three months ago, but only received his membership card last week due to the coronavirus pandemic.
— Progress Singapore Party (@ProgressSgParty) June 24, 2020
“He is not just an ordinary person. His father is the founder of Singapore,” Tan said. “The fact that he decided to join us is a clear indication that the current team did not follow what his dad wanted.”
However, Hsien Loong attempted to defuse impressions on Monday that the upcoming general election will be a family fight, saying that it is not about family disputes, but about “Singapore being at a very grave moment in its history”.
“It is within Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s rights as a citizen,” he said in a press conference when quizzed on his brother’s decision. “*But) this GE is not about me or any family disputes which may involve my brother and me. It’s about Singapore’s future at a very grave moment in our history.”
However, the Straits Times reported that in a Facebook post after the announcement, it was made clear that Hsien Yang would not be contesting. Although he grew up in a family at the centre of Singapore politics, political leadership here “needs to be much more than about one family or one man”.
“I have chosen not to stand for political office because I believe Singapore does not need another Lee,” stated the post. “The empirical evidence shows that dynastic politics causes bad government. When people enter politics on the back of the family name, they are often evaluated based on their parents and not their performance. This unfair advantage undermines meritocracy. How can we expect politicians to hold each other to account, if they are blood relations?”
While he is interested in politics he will be “involved through speaking up, by supporting candidates and parties I believe in, by contributing my time, ideas and resources to causes I support, and by seeking an open and independent media”.