Singapore PM’s brother backs opposition but won’t seek election

Singapore PM’s brother backs opposition but won’t seek election

Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, sits for a coffee after been presented membership to the opposition Progress Singapore Party at at an event at the Tiong Bahru Market in Singapore on June 24, 2020. (AFP photo)
Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, sits for a coffee after been presented membership to the opposition Progress Singapore Party at at an event at the Tiong Bahru Market in Singapore on June 24, 2020. (AFP photo)

Lee Hsien Yang, the estranged younger brother of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will not contest in the city-state’s July 10 general elections, deflating the hype built up after he joined the opposition as the nine-day campaigning period kicked off Tuesday.

“I have chosen not to stand for political office because I believe Singapore does not need another Lee,” he said in a Facebook post after the nomination deadline passed. “I do not seek power, prestige or financial rewards of political office. I hope to be a catalyst for change.”

The younger Lee’s entry into the opposition Progress Singapore Party, announced last week, fuelled speculation he could stand as a candidate against the incumbent People’s Action Party, led by his elder brother, which has won every contest since independence in 1965.

While Singapore doesn’t allow opinion polls, most analysts expect the PAP to easily win again. Still, any narrowing of its victory margin could reflect an erosion of confidence in its new generation of leaders, particularly regarding how they are handling the pandemic.

Despite declining to run himself, Lee, 62, will campaign against the ruling party co-founded and built up by his father Lee Kuan Yew, the nation’s founding prime minister, which his older brother now leads. The siblings have been sparring over the estate of their father since his death in 2015, and the rivalry has spilled over into other conflicts.

Campaigning ahead of the July 10 vote will likely focus on Singapore’s response to Covid-19 and its economic fallout. The PAP’s election manifesto hails its ability to steer the country through the coronavirus crisis, while numerous opposition parties will surface issues such as the expected increase in the goods-and-services tax and retrenchment insurance.

Family Drama

Lee Hsien Loong, who turns 70 in 2022, has signalled his intent to make way for his successor, widely expected to be current Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. While the prime minister has largely avoided government scandals since he took office in 2004, the family drama has been brewing in recent years. He said on Monday that the election isn’t about him or any family disputes, but about Singapore’s future at a critical juncture, according to the Straits Times.

The siblings have clashed over Lee Kuan Yew’s will, and in particular, his famous Oxley Road house. Lee Hsien Yang’s wife is in a legal tussle over accusations that she mishandled the will, and his son -- an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University -- faces a court charge for disparaging remarks about the judicial system that were posted on a private Facebook post.

This will be the first election for the Progress Singapore Party, which was founded last year by former ruling party members who became disgruntled with the government. It has seen a surge in donations in recent days, with its leader Tan Cheng Bock -- a former PAP lawmaker and presidential candidate -- describing it as the “Lee Hsien Yang effect.”

“People must get away from that notion that his coming into this particular political journey is just to hope to talk more about what happened about Oxley and so on,” Tan said on Monday during a briefing. “It’s nothing to be connected to his family, because he believed in what we started out, our party.”

The constitution ensures there will be at least 12 opposition MPs in Parliament after this election, compared to nine in the last legislature. If there are fewer than 12 opposition members elected, non-constituency MPs will be chosen from the opposition candidates who received the most votes.

Five constituencies are expected to be hotly contested, mostly between the PAP and the Workers’ Party -- the main opposition force.


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