June 14, 2017 is one of the saddest days of my life.
That was the day a six-page statement by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, was released. In it, the younger children of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, revealed that they had lost their trust in their brother, present PM Lee Hsien Loong, and his leadership.
I was dismayed further by PM Lee’s subsequent reply on Facebook, and social media and market feeds are alight with discussion. Why does this family feud sadden me (and so many other Singaporeans) so much more than others’ disagreements?
Here are seven reasons:
First, the fight involves the legacy of one of the world’s (and my) greatest heroes: the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. I have always had the highest regard for his children. But their unashamed and unmitigated fight has jolted my senses and numbed my feelings.
Second, the fight is over a piece of property and concerns the dying wish of a father—yet, supposedly close-knit siblings are flinging no-holds-barred accusations at each other. Any parent would be devastated if their children fought so viciously. If my children fought among themselves like this, I know I would be!
I am certain that the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew would feel the same way too if they were alive.
Third, all three siblings are high-achieving, brilliant individuals who should know better. Rather than provide an example of how to handle conflict and disagreement, they have chosen to divide themselves and by extension, the entire nation. What a disappointing tale!
Fourth, it gets worse because it severely affects Singapore’s reputation of being well-governed. Singapore’s post-independence success led to its status as a role model of good governance that is clean, respectable and corruption-free. The reputation of PM Lee himself has been tainted by this episode—though if anything, it reminds us that he is human after all.
Fifth, in my experience, internal divisions are far scarier than external threats such as war and terrorism. While the latter can rally citizens to join together in a common cause, the former can tear society apart from within as differences in opinion grow into open disagreement and social fractures.
Sixth, our government has been carefully built up by generations of great leaders, but all it takes to taint this legacy is one ugly feud. The fight has spilled over to affect the Lees’ spouses and children, who are set on accusing one another of inappropriate behavior. As I write, there is an ongoing argument over the exact contents and drawing up of Lee Kuan Yew’s will, with allegations of coercion and conflicts of interest.
Finally, the fight has escalated from personal differences to sibling conflicts to family disputes—and on to national divide and to international disrepute. I am currently in Jakarta, and my Indonesian friends are shocked by the news. They have always spoken highly of Singapore.
Truly, I am very, very sad.
I hope and pray that all disputing parties can settle the issues amicably, overcome their pains, recover from the hurts and learn to forgive. May they help Singaporeans see, once again, that Singapore is a home that everyone can be proud of.