Lee vs Lee slugfest in Singapore general election?

Left: PM Lee Hsien Loong | Right: Mr Lee Hsien Yang (https://www.iresimply81.com)

Left: PM Lee Hsien Loong | Right: Mr Lee Hsien Yang (https://www.iresimply81.com)

By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN

SINGAPORE: A Lee vs Lee clash? This is the tantalising scenario in which Lee Kuan Yew’s second son Hsien Yang will be contesting the late elder statesman’s power base of Tanjong Pagar against his estranged elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s slate in the controversial July 10 general election amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

The two brothers have fallen out over their late father’s final will on the future of the family residence at 38 Oxley Road.

An electoral tussle between the duo is being hyped about after Hsien Yang joined the leader of the opposition Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Dr Tan Cheng Bock, a PAP veteran lawmaker-turned critic at a well-publicised breakfast meeting on June 24 and formally received his party membership card.

It was more than symbolic that they   met at the popular Tiong Bahru Market located in the Tanjong Pagar electoral division where the senior Lee launched his political career in 1955 and held it till his death at age 92 in 2015. The late leader left a will that included demolition of the pre-War bungalow house where he deliberated with political colleagues to found the PAP in 1954.

His disputed final will has led to the feud, dubbed Oxleygate, between PM Lee,68, and his younger siblings, Hsien Yang,62,  and sister Wei Ling,65, that has spilled over into the political arena.

At the PSP media event, Hsien Yang said he has cast in his lot with the opposition party because, like Dr Tan, he believed the PAP under PM Lee had strayed from the founder’s tenets of good governance viz independence, accountability and transparency.

“I joined the party because I think that Dr Tan is committed to doing the right thing for Singapore and Singaporeans and he loves the country,” said the business executive who, like his brother, held the rank of brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Forces.

The PSP would tackle the PAP on income inequality, housing, governance and transparency issues.

However, he gave an enigmatic reply when asked by reporters whether he would contest the polls. . “When I’m ready to disclose it, you will find out,” he said.

PSP Secretary General Dr Tan played along: “Don’t worry. In politics, we know when to make our move. Timing is important.”

But he did throw a hint. Describing Hsien Yang as no “ordinary person,’’ Dr Tan said, “His father is the founder of Singapore. And the fact he has decided to join us is a clear indication the current government did not follow what his dad wants.”

In a follow-up online broadcast, Hsien Yang also sought to clear the air that his denunciation of the PAP “losing its way” was not prompted by the Oxleygate saga that came into the open in 2017.

“My sister shares this view (of the PAP) in a Facebook post in August 2016,” he said.

He told Singaporeans that they could be loyal and proud citizens and yet not vote for the PAP.

But will he offer himself as a choice for voters? Hsien Yang will be a wild card in the pack as reported in January. Any challenger will find the odds are against him, given the government use of four budgets to manage the on-going Covid-19 crisis. Yesterday, there were 213 new cases bringing the total to 43,459 with 26 deaths.

A taxi-driver told this writer that he would be getting up to S$10,000 in relief benefits. He said, “How could the Opposition match this bonanza?” To the counter-point that the government would recover the money through taxes down the road, he said “Take first,think about that later.”
Indeed, the government had dug deep in into the national reserves, up to S$93 billion, to fund several relief and rescue packages to cushion the impact of job loss and business disruptions caused by the on-going pandemic.

But there are those who believe the younger Lee’s hand would be forced even if it is an uphill battle.

“If Hsien Yang does not contest this election on a PSP ticket, he would be giving Hsien Loong the upperhand to deal with the Oxleygate issue,” a political analyst told this writer.

“For Dr Tan Cheng Bock, 80, this election might be his swansong. So,for Hsien Yang,it’s a matter of now or never.”

Having come thus far in identifying with Dr Tan and sharing the vision of reclaiming Lee Kuan Yew’s political legacy, for Hsien Yang to waver now might  lose the cause he and Dr Tan are championing.

Like Prince Hamlet, will he or will he not? Up to June 26, when the PSP introduced its last batch of candidates for the 13th general election, the younger Lee’s name was missing. Bearing in mind, however, that timing is critical in politics, as Dr Tan said, many are not ruling out a Nomination Day surprise on June 30.

Yesterday (June 27) Hsien Yang, donning the party uniform with a red palm frond logo, went on a campaign walkabout taking in the Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency targeted by the PSP.

The candidate-in-waiting sent out this message: Deny the PAP its “supermajority” even as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong appealed to voters for a strong mandate.

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