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Singapore PM denies nepotism amid family feud in parliament speech

Singapore, Singapore | AFP | Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday strongly rejected as “baseless” claims from his siblings of abuse of power and nepotism as he faced parliament over a political drama that has shocked tightly-controlled Singapore.

The leader was seeking to draw a line under an escalating feud about his late father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding leader, which has captivated the wealthy city-state where speaking so openly against the first family is rare and critics have in the past been taken to court.

The dispute burst into the open last month when the premier’s brother and sister launched attacks on social media — which quickly went viral — accusing him of exploiting their father’s legacy for his own political agenda and seeking to groom his son as a future leader.

They have also raised questions about his wife, who is chief executive of state investment fund Temasek Holdings.

The elder Lee, who led Singapore for three decades and died in March 2015, is widely revered for having transformed the former British colony into one of the world’s wealthiest societies but faced criticism from rights groups for muzzling the press and jailing political opponents.

In a closely watched speech to parliament, Lee, 65, said the allegations levelled at him by his brother and sister were “entirely baseless”.

“I know many Singaporeans are upset by this issue. They are tired of the subject, and wish it would end,” he told the legislature, which is dominated by lawmakers from his long-ruling People’s Action Party.

“As a son, I am pained at the anguish this strife would have caused my parents if they were still alive,” he added.

People who have publicly criticised the first family have in the past faced libel suits but the leader said he would not sue his brother and sister as the process could drag on for years and “further besmirch my parents’ names”.

Low Thia Khiang, leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, challenged him to take the pair to court, saying that “not doing so would risk the government giving the impression that it is afraid of what the Lee siblings might say or reveal”.

– Fears of personality cult –

The prime minister had called for an open debate in parliament after the attacks on Facebook against him and his wife Ho Ching.

He apologised for a second time over the quarrel and rejected charges of nepotism. He said the head of Temasek is appointed by its board subject to confirmation by the president of Singapore, and that his son has already said he was not interested in politics.

The row with his sister Wei Ling, 62, and brother Hsien Yang, 60, stemmed from a dispute over what to do with a century-old family bungalow that has simmered since the death of the elder Lee.

The patriarch had wanted the bungalow destroyed after he passed away to prevent the creation of a personality cult, but the siblings say the premier is attempting to block its demolition to capitalise on their father’s legacy.

In Monday’s speech, Lee said that despite a “demolition clause” governing the house in his final will, his father was “prepared to consider alternatives” and even approved renovation plans should the government decide against tearing it down.

He said he was not behind the creation of a ministerial committee led by his deputy Teo Chee Hean to explore various options for the house.

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