Sister of Singapore Prime Minister Lee accuses him of dynasty politics

Singapore PM and sister in a feud

A public rift between members of Singapore's "first family" has ruptured the Southeast Asian city-state's reputation for orderly and stable politics.

The younger sister of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling, has hit the headlines after a series of controversial Facebook posts.

The latest one, published early Sunday, was an e-mail exchange between Lee and the editor of local newspaper The Straits Times regarding the one-year anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), Singapore's first prime minister and father to current Prime Minister Lee and his sister. The former leader passed away last March at the age of 91 after suffering from pneumonia.

In the published e-mail excerpts, Lee Wei Ling accused her brother, referred to in her posts as HL, of using the one-year anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew's death as a tool to try to establish a political dynasty.

International media have long criticized Singapore's political system over the prominence of the Lee family. The People's Action Party (PAP), created by Lee Kuan Yew in 1954, has ruled Singapore's political landscape since the country's independence in 1965.

Lee Wei Ling's post implied the prime minister was using the anniversary events for political aims.

"HL has no qualms abusing his power to [have] a commemoration just one year after LKY died... Let's be real, last year's event was so vivid no one will forget it in one yr [sic]. But 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 wrote.

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She added that she "and HL are at odds on a matter of principle" regarding the one-year commemoration. The post was deleted by Sunday afternoon.

Later, the prime minister responded via Facebook, saying he was "deeply saddened" by his sister's claims. "The accusations are completely untrue," he said, adding that his administration thought that the anniversary events, which were planned by community groups, were generally appropriate.

"The idea that I should wish to establish a dynasty makes even less sense. Meritocracy is a fundamental value of our society, and neither I, the PAP, nor the Singapore public would tolerate any such attempt," he concluded.

Chang Li Lin, press secretary to the Prime Minister, told CNBC the office had no further comment on the issue.

Singapore's political opposition is limited to a few parties, including the Workers Party, the Democratic Progressive Party and The Singaporeans First Party. During the 2015 general election, the first poll since Lee Kuan Yew's death, many had expected to see opposition parties to gain enough votes to challenge PAP's dominance. But the PAP won a landslide victory with 69.9 percent of the vote, above the 60.1 percent it won in the 2011 election, which was its worst-ever performance.

A vocal critic

Formerly a director of Singapore's National Neuroscience Institute and columnist at The Straits Times, Lee Wei Ling is well known for her strong opinions.

The Facebook post that marked the first salvo in the current spat was published on March 25, with Lee criticizing events marking the anniversary of her father's death anniversary.

"Lee Kuan Yew would have cringed at the hero worship just one year after his death," she wrote, criticizing displays such as a 3.1-meter tall outline of Lee Kuan Yew's face made with nearly 5,000 erasers.

A few days later, on April 1, she wrote, "I will no longer write for SPH [Singapore Press Holdings, publisher of The Straits Times] as the editors there do not allow me freedom of speech. In fact, that was the reason why I posted the article that LKY would not want to be hero-worshipped."

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The statement refers to a column Lee penned for the Sunday edition of The Straits Times that went unpublished. The Straits Times is owned by publicly listed SPH. Several government-linked companies own stakes in SPH, and it is one of the country's two major news organizations alongside state-owned MediaCorp.

Lee isn't alone in leveling allegations of media censorship within Singapore; numerous international organizations, including Human Rights Watch and The Economist, have also said the media isn't fully free.

But in a recent editor's note, The Straits Times said that the column was being edited, not suppressed, noting that Lee had made substantial additions referring to China. The news outlet's editor, Ivan Fernandez, also alleged that much of Lee's additions to the column were plagiarized from multiple sources.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Lee said, "I did not attempt to plagiarize, I simply forgot to acknowledge the source," adding that during multiple exchanges via email, Fernandez never informed her that quoting without attribution would be considered plagiarism.

"I leave my readers to judge me fairly, whether I intentionally plagiarized or as a filial daughter I wanted to stop any attempts at hagiography at the first anniversary of my father's death," she said in an April 9 Facebook post.

Lee did not immediately respond to a Facebook message requesting comment. Fernandez didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

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