The Sunday Leader

Ruling Lee Family Of S’pore In Crisis

by Gamini Weerakoon

The Seventh Heaven, the Nirvana of Asian Capitalism, the Land of Plenty where everything could be found from cures of skin blemishes to cardiac arrests and of course where there is no garbage on the roads, has been struck by a severe man-made earthquake.


Lee family and Singapore

Lee Kwan Yew, Prime Minsiter Ranil Wickremesinghe and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera

Singaporeans awoke one morning late June to realise that the impossible had happened. The ruling family of Lee Kwan Yew – the revered man who is synonymous with Singapore – was quarrelling in public, with the siblings accusing the ruling Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, their elder brother, in their Facebook Pages of being ‘unfit to hold the job’ as the Prime  Minister and questioning about what has happened to ‘Lee Kwan Yew’ values.

This would have been a tremendous cultural and political shock to the citizens because Singapore has been synonymous with Lee Kwan Yew for over half century and his family headed by Lee Hsien Loong was considered the standard bearer of the founding father and his traditions.


Last will

Prime Minister Loong replied in a 3,800 word statement suggesting that his younger brother Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Fern, a top corporate lawyer, had an improper role in drafting the last will of their father and their father might even have not known the details of what he was signing.

Loong’s sister has called her elder brother’s statement ‘mischievous and dishonest’.

Accusations and counter accusations on the Social Media have been flying continuously for the past two weeks which has led a Singaporean commentator to compare it to the Mahabharatha, the Indian epic which describes the epic war between two celestial families for the throne of a kingdom.

In the case of Singapore the issues seem to be less of a battle of the gods and much more mundane: Almost a Sri Lankan (boodale) inheritance quarrel: the Mahagedera (ancestral home) and the last will.

The battle raging in the open is over Lee Kuan Yew’s private residence – an old colonial bungalow which Lee wanted demolished after his death since he did not want a cult to be built around him. This has been included in his last will which Prime Minister Loong contends was not his wish but was manipulated by his younger brother and wife.

The only place the founding father had agreed to be named after him was the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, the institute he founded for the training of the best of the intellectual elite for governing Singapore. He probably did not want a personality cult to be developed around him like what happens in countries like Sri Lanka where public monuments even markets and toilets are named not only in memory of the dead but for those who are still alive and kicking.

As the debate raged during the past two weeks – which is also being debated in parliament – it appears that the founding father’s million-dollar estate and its distribution among the siblings too is an issue. Lee’s unmarried daughter Ling, father Lee had desired, should get a larger share than the other two.

Lee’s daughter Lee Wei Ling has accused elder Prime Minister Loong of grooming his son for premiership.

Singaporeans watching their own soap opera, reports say, are now speculating whether the ancestral home is the main cause for the issue or other causes such as the clash of the two powerful sisters-in-law – wife of the prime minister and wife of the younger brother who are described as two women who could make strong men quiver before them.


Asian families and attempted dynasties

Leading Asian families have attempted to turn their families into dynasties albeit not with much success. Lee Kwan Yew’s family stands out among Asian families – both South Asian and South East Asian – in sheer intellectual achievements rather than creation of scandals and becoming billion-dollar commission agents which other families gained notoriety.

Lee Kwan Yew was a graduate from Cambridge University with a double first class in law, qualified as a barrister before taking to politics in Singapore. His wife Kwan Geok Choo, a contemporary of Lee at Cambridge and a Queen’s Scholar to Cambridge had also graduated in Law.

Of his sons, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is a Senior Wrangler in Mathematics of Trinity College Cambridge and holder of a top Diploma in Computer Science and Master of Public Administration of Harvard.

His first wife died four years after marriage and his second wife Ho Chin, a scientist, is a President’s Scholar, Graduate of the Singapore University and holds a Master’s Degree from Stanford and has been chief executive for 15 years of Temsek Holdings, Singapore’s massive investment fund. She has been ranked No. 30 in Forbes List of most powerful women in the world.

Lee’s second child, daughter Lee Wei Ling is a reputed neurologist, head of the National Neuroscience Institute and a columnist for Singapore’s Sunday Strait Times.

Younger brother Lee Hsien Yang is also a graduate of Cambridge with a double first in Engineering and holds an MSc from Stanford University. His wife Lim Suet Fern is a fellow Cambridge alumni and a top corporate lawyer in Singapore.

Even the grand children are in top Western universities, some already having qualifications rivaling their parents and grandparents.

This tremendous pooling of academic talent in a family stands out in stark contrast to some of other South Asian families like the Marcoses of the Philippines, Suhartos of Indonesia, Razes of Malaysia and even some families in South Asia who have striven and some still striving to convert political families into dynasties and perhaps with fond dreams of transforming into ancient kingdoms of yore.

The current crisis the family of Lee Kwan Yew is going through is the stark reality that quite apart from dynasties and kingdoms, ruling families are impermanent as any other things on earth. The rule Ashes to Ashes; Dust to Dust or Anichaa Wata Sankara – impermanency of all things prevail.


Why  ‘No Government in the Country’

For the president of a democratically elected government to say publicly that ‘Anyone watching TV would feel that there is no government in the country’, is astounding, particularly when two of the channels with the widest reach of the country’s limited number of channels and with the best resources  are within state control.

President Maithripala Sirisena, being a veteran politician, should ask himself why this extraordinary situation has come about. He should ask the journalists and advisors in the presidential secretariat as well as those in state TV channels for reasons but it is quite likely he will not get the real reasons for his media debacle because they happen to be the culprits.


Who is responsible?

The fault ultimately lies with the president himself and those responsible for running state TV and even other state media institutions such as state newspaper organisations and radio.

They are packed with those who are considered ‘loyalists’ to the Yahapalanaya government and those left behind by the previous regime who are certainly not ‘Loyalists’ but supporters of the Rajapaksas  – Third Columnists. Among the hundreds amounting to about a thousand journalists in state institutions, the few UNP or Yahapalanaya supporters are hedged by the overwhelming Opposition activists.

President Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe should get some professionals to analyse the contents coming out of these state media institutions and how much of it is pro-opposition and anti-government. Certainly the government’s official statements, speeches of the president and some ministers get publicity but the slanted propaganda is for the Opposition.

On the other hand, two privately owned channels, which are now highly popular, are hitting the government where it hurts most while glorifying the Rajapaksas. They cannot be faulted for that because of ‘the freedom of the press’ and now that of the media. But false propaganda has to be countered.

Those at the helm of those media institutions are not professionals and appear to let anti-government propaganda flow through government media channels. Even the once mighty bastion of government propaganda, Lake House – under any government – is now not only quite fair by the opposition but even pro-opposition.


Acid Test 

The acid test of   this is that the usual Opposition howls against fake news of Lake House and state radio and TV are heard of no more. State media are OK to even the Yahapalanaya’s most virulent critics.

The duty of state media is not to carry out false news and propaganda campaigns against the Opposition but to project the work carried out by the government and support it in its endeavours.

What’s the president, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and ministers going to do about Sri Lanka TV channels conveying to viewers that there is no government in this country, as President Sirisena said?

Its half way round the course for the Yahapalanaya government and it is time to get going. What can the new media minister Mangala Samaraweera do or will he be left free to do anything about it?

5 Comments for “Ruling Lee Family Of S’pore In Crisis”

  1. Ela kolla

    Unlike Lankawe weeping widow with an OL and chits for kids to oxford and Sciences Po. scholarships meant for the jantawe not wallawe.

    Kwan Geok Choo took a first in two years in Law Tripos II. I took a double first, and a starred first for the finals, but in three years.
    The two had been fierce rivals in school, at least on Lee’s part as he found out that she had beaten him to be the top student in English and economics at the end of the first term when they were both studying at Raffles College.
    Throughout the years, Kwa was always Lee’s unofficial speech checker, helping him tighten his text. And, as one of the best lawyers in Singapore, Kwa also helped to draft clauses in the Separation Agreement when Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia, after an ill-fated merger that lasted 22 months. Behind the scenes, Kwa took care of their children while also running the law firm.

  2. Jai_Bolo

    Why no government? Ladies man Obama and his troupe are being exposed slowly- the helicopter money and transporting islam to asia, has taken its toll. Lanka lost $10 billion in exports last year. but this above all The Donald and Modi Hug has put Lanka and China in a spin- no more subs will come come the east to threaten the Indian- a dozen of the state of the art drones now operate from Andaman. And of course BoJo needs India to negotiate Diego Garcia with Mauritius (UP heritage-it sponsored the UNHCR debate that took lanka by storm.
    When there is Tao the horses pull dung carts but when Tao is not present horses are trained for battle. The island is craving to go back to its mother(Madras Presidency administration) that made it prosperous and picturesque until 1948.
    Salli no only the laughing buddha has it all.

  3. bala sunderam

    All state appointed media are a bunch of ‘yes’men. It is the same soup with a different name; ‘ Yahapalanaya’.

  4. Les Perera

    It is time the rulers of the world (Sri Lanka incuded) addressed the economic problems that they face and realised that, their task will be much easier and I
    dare say greatly facilitated by greater focus on the current IN EQUALITY OF INCOMES that has kept widening in the past and will only grow further, if ignored.

  5. Abey

    Writers point about Media is very true. This Govt has miserably failed to counter fake reports from MR camp. It is true that they have not done much to shout about and RW has been foolish in defending that croocked Mahendren family. Other than that they have not been as nearly as bad as MR.

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