June 25, 2017

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Authors Posts by Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson

Bertha Henson
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Bertha was formerly Associate Editor of The Straits Times and worked as a journalist in Singapore Press Holdings for 26 years.

by Bertha Henson

THAT was a masterly response from Madam Ho Ching! Read her post and you can see an Asian aunty tidying up after pampered children. You can see her with a broom and a dustpan carrying out the dutiful daughter-in-law responsibilities – or being a “dogsbody’’, as she put it rather old-fashionedly.

This image hardly tallies with the Lee siblings’ first description of her as a power hungry matriarch with too much influence over civil servants. She was, they said, the opposite of their mother, the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

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“Singapore has no such thing as the wife of the prime minister being a ‘first lady,’” they said in a joint statement released on June 14, 2017. “During those many years, his [Lee Kuan Yew’s] wife (our mother) consistently avoided the limelight, remaining his stalwart supporter and advisor in private. She lived discreetly, and set a high bar for the conduct of a prime minister’s wife. She would never instruct Permanent Secretaries or senior civil servants. The contrast between her and Ho Ching could not be more stark. While Ho Ching holds no elected or official position in government, her influence is pervasive, and extends well beyond her job purview.”

So far, the Lees have only brought up one example which they think is unwarranted intervention on her part and that is regarding the removal of items from the house. She was painted as the wicked daughter-in-law who removed items from the house even as the late Mr Lee was lying in hospital. “She had no business doing this when LKY was in ICU and it is deeply troubling that someone can represent the PMO despite holding no official position,” said Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

Then there was a mix-up over dates, which seems entirely to be the fault of the National Heritage Board. She only did so after Mr Lee’s funeral. Undeterred, Mr Lee Hsien Yang then calls her a thief. “This is even more troubling. By LKY’s will, the estate’s residual items, such as personal documents, fall under the absolute discretion of the executors Wei Ling and myself. Unapproved removal of these items, even by a beneficiary, constitutes both theft and intermeddling.’’

The incident looks clearly like a domestic saga among family members. Why should it concern the rest of us? It should, only insofar as the siblings clarify or justify their earlier statements on Madam Ho exceeding her role as Prime Minister’s wife. What sort of leeway should the spouse of a minister have with civil servants?

If she does direct civil servants to do something, should they do so? Is it implicit that what she wants is also what the Prime Minister wants?

She doesn’t have to say she is Mrs Lee Hsien Loong. People know. What is the bet that the ordinary person knows that Madam Kwa Geok Choo is Mrs Lee Kuan Yew?

Of course, this might be jumping the gun. It may well be that Madam Ho never tried to influence G agencies and that Lee siblings are talking nonsense. In Madam Ho’s case, it is imperative that she stays out of matters that are not under her purview given that her connection with Temasek Holdings already lays the Prime Minister open to charges of nepotism. After 15 years at the helm of this powerful entity, it has become a non-issue. She is a smart, capable woman in her own right. So let it remain that way.

As a contrasting case, the United States (US) has “a longstanding tradition of public service by First Ladies”. But even in the US, former First Lady Mrs Hillary Clinton was served with two lawsuits for leading a highly-secretive health-care reform task force, which counted government staff among its members. The American public seemed to shun a powerful First Lady whose public service was shrouded in secrecy.

Here in Singapore, Madam Kwa Geok Choo was well aware of her role as a staunch supporter of her husband. She once said: “I walk two steps behind my husband like a good Asian wife.”

Spouses and family members of leaders should be careful about keeping out of governance matters. There’s no problem rooting for your spouse or the political party he belongs to but it’s quite another to use them as leverage to get anyone to do anything, however pure the intentions.

G ministers here have a Code of Conduct last revised in 2005, which draws a line between the personal and the professional. It states that a minister must “scrupulously avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest between his office and his private financial interests”. This may arise “from the exercise of powers or influence in a way that benefits or may be seen to benefit private interests held; or from using special knowledge acquired in the course of his activities as Minister to bring benefit or avoid loss in relation to his private financial interests”. It extends to: Ministers must not “use official information that comes to him… for his own private profit or the profit of any family member or associate”.

Perhaps the code should include some guidance for family members. Unlike in other countries, we’ve never had a problem with family members abusing their privileged position, we should keep it that way. Madam Ho is not the First Lady, but she must be Caesar’s wife.

 

The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our past articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: That internal ministerial committee should go (Jun 21)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Will parliament session end saga? (Jun 20)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  4. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  5. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  7. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  8. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  9. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  10. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  11. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  14. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  15. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  16. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  17. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  18. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  19. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  20. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  21. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

Looks like the G is digging in its heels over the internal ministerial committee. There is a very quick riposte to Mr Han Fook Kwang’s column yesterday (Jun 21) in The Straits Times on whether the committee was even necessary. Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean, whom we knew only a few days ago heads the committee, said the Cabinet “cannot outsource decision-making”.

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He reiterated that the committee was only interested in the Will only insofar as it sheds light on the late Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes over the Oxley Road house.

That’s the problem isn’t it? A committee trying to come to a conclusion on a dead man’s wishes by interviewing family members, one of whom happens to be its leader.

Committee members, two of whom have spoken to the younger Lees before, would have known how fractious this would be given Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s suspicions over the validity of the will which he had spoken to Mr Teo about. Plus, some of the acrimony between the siblings has surfaced in public before this saga, such as the quarrel over documents kept in the house.

Evidently, the G thought its investigation would be kept quiet. They didn’t reckon that the Lees would make it public. Perhaps, the G believed that unless it said something first, no one else would take things out in the open without its say-so. It’s a common G affliction.

Mr Teo’s point is that the Cabinet has a responsibility especially since there are laws such as the Planning Act and Preservation of Monuments Act that need to be considered. So it has to consider the legislation plus the late Mr Lee’s wishes, to come to a demolish-preserve-hybrid decision.

What this means is that it is not accepting that the last wishes of Mr Lee in his will, that is, the demolition clause, could be final. (To a layman, it looks absolutely clear that he wanted it razed.) So the committee now has to do some detective work, which will surely upset the Lee siblings because the assumption is that the Will was “tilted’’ their way through some nefarious means.

The committee should be disbanded, because it is tainted.

The G can argue till the cows come home that it’s a routine committee and not “secret’’ but it would have to acknowledge that it could have been more transparent, if not with the public, at least with the Lee siblings on, say, the composition of the committee.

It can say that it has the right and responsibility to decide on the fate of the house but it can’t deny that the public would also be interested – just as they are interested in giving views about the Founders’ Memorial. In this regard, there has been some unbending: “But this [setting up of a Ministerial Committee] does not preclude public consultations or the involvement of some memorial committee at an appropriate time. Indeed members of the public have already written in offering suggestions.”

It can say it is only interested in ascertaining the late Mr Lee’s last wishes and nothing else, but is it also saying then that it would not get relevant agencies involved if there was some hanky-panky that went on?

In any case, the ministerial committee can’t make a “decision’’ on the house, because it can only recommend a position for the G of the day to take when Dr Lee Wei Ling vacates the place. That G of the day might choose to ignore its recommendations for whatever reason.

The Cabinet should have taken itself out of the picture, set up another committee to ascertain the last wishes, and later decide, without PM Lee, on whether to accept its recommendations. That would surely have been a neater method and would not be seen as an abdication of responsibility.

It’s likely that DPM Teo will speak in Parliament on July 3. He might first want to acknowledge that the G is in a pickle, rather insist that the committee did everything right.

 

The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our past articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: Will parliament session end saga? (Jun 20)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  3. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  5. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  6. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  7. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  8. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  9. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  10. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  14. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  15. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  16. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  17. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  18. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  19. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  20. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

 

 

by Bertha Henson

SOME 20 years ago, the Lee family found themselves in a quandary, except that they closed ranks then. It had to do with corruption – whether they knew that the apartments they bought from local developer Hotel Properties Ltd. (HPL) came with a hefty discount.

Singapore was surprised when the issue was sprung in Parliament in 1996 with the then Prime Minister (PM) Goh Chok Tong saying that he had launched investigations into rumours regarding the purchases. Both then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave statements in Parliament. People were surprised because they thought the rumours were just that: rumours with no clear originating source. Plus, those were the days when social media wasn’t around to amplify them.

PM Goh said he had found nothing improper, that the Lees did not ask for nor even knew of the discounts, which had since been given to charity. There was a three-day debate in Parliament.

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Now, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong has told Singapore that he would make a statement in Parliament on July 3 refuting allegations that had been made by his siblings over the past few days. A wan-looking Mr Lee had himself video-taped with a message for the people.

It was a masterly job. He apologised; he said he had tried to keep it private. His parents would be anguished to see what’s been happening, he said. There were hints of frustration and embarrassment in his message which culminated in a fierce declaration to “repair the damage that had been done to Singapore”. This is the first time in a very long time that a prime minister has resorted to doing the equivalent of breaking into a broadcast news cycle to speak to the masses. It shows that he recognised the urgency of responding to the confusion that has taken hold of Singapore over the past few days.

So far, the Prime Minister has commented three times since Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling launched their campaign in the wee hours of June 14. The siblings said their aim was to tell about how their eldest brother was running roughshod over them because he wanted his way over their father’s will, especially over the Oxley Road house. PM Lee, who was holidaying abroad, responded with a post denying the allegations made by the two Lees. He concluded the post saying: “As my siblings know, I am presently overseas on leave with my family. I will consider this matter further after I return this weekend.”

He wasn’t allowed to holiday in peace, however, because his siblings went on to speak to media, made public private correspondence and other aspects of the squabble surfaced, such as PM Lee’s public and private utterances about their father’s wish for the Oxley Road house.

In turn, PM Lee launched a bombshell in the form of a summary of a statutory declaration he made to what the siblings described as a “secret ministerial committee’’. Most intriguing were his doubts that proper procedures had been followed in the drafting of the final will – not just about the demolition clause but also about share portions among the three siblings. Mrs Lee Suet Fern, who was involved/not involved (depending on who you believe) in the last will, became the new focus of attention.

Singaporeans watched all this, puzzled, bemused, and also upset. Some will say it is unseemly for such an illustrious family to bicker so openly over their father’s desires. They would rather close their ears. Others will wonder about whether PM Lee is as power-hungry as his siblings make him out to be. They would want evidence or a firm rebuttal. All, however, know that the dispute is damaging Singapore’s reputation and trust in the government, as PM Lee himself recognises.

Will the parliamentary session put the matter to rest? PM Lee has said that the People’s Action Party (PAP) whip will be lifted. This will be one of those rare occasions when PAP Members of Parliament (MPs) are allowed to speak their minds and vote their hearts. In previous occasions, the whip was lifted to acknowledge that MPs had their own religious beliefs to take into account, such as over abortion and the Human Organ transplant act, or where the legislation might affect their own work as MPs, such as the introduction of nominated MPs.

Doubtless, PM Lee doesn’t want it said that the PAP MPs were merely toeing the party line with soft questions. He has given them permission to speak and it will be for them to act as representatives, not of the party but of the people. He encouraged the non-PAP MPs to speak up too.

It will be an interesting debate not least because the PM seems to be encouraging a parliamentary inquiry into his words and actions, with himself as sole respondent. It will be tough for MPs to take his side given that people will watch for partisan comments and draw what conclusions they will. If, however, there is a sticking point about using parliament as a forum, it is about how comments are ‘privileged’, that is, no one can be sued for what they say in it.

Will a ‘full public airing’ dispel doubts about the political system here? MPs and political observers believe that it will allow the G to publicly address the serious allegations of abuse of power that have been made by the Lee siblings. Notably, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat hopes that this will “dispel doubts, and strengthen confidence in our institutions and system of government”, reported ST.

In the HPL case, Parliamentary hearings successfully quelled public disquiet. The then Nominated MP Walter Woon remarked positively that the debate proved: “That you do not have to give favours to civil servants or politicians, because it is not accepted; and that if there was any impropriety, no matter how high up, it will be rooted out and stamped on.”

Even the opposition MPs reportedly agreed that the discounts were not illegal. The then Singapore Democratic Party MP Ling How Doong said it loud and clear: “I am not taking part in the debate because there is no impropriety. There is no necessity to have this matter brought to Parliament.”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew even framed the occasion into a demonstration of the effectiveness of Singapore’s system of checks and balances: “I take pride and satisfaction that the question of my two purchases and those of the Deputy Prime Minister, my son, has been subjected to, and not exempted from, scrutiny… It is most important that Singapore remain a place where no one is above scrutiny, that any question of integrity of a minister, however senior, that he has gained benefits either through influence or corrupt practices, be investigated”

In the previous case, there was a gatekeeper, which was PM Goh. So, there was someone who could say he had the matter scrutinised, draw a line and declare it closed. There was also no one who could put up a meaningful challenge on the matter, since the allegations were “rumours’’ without a source. In this case, we have two high-profile individuals who do not mince their words.

A parliamentary session will not be as definitive as a court case because it cannot make judgments of guilt or innocence. Perhaps, the debate will be framed in the form of a motion which MPs can vote for or against or abstain, especially since the PAP whip is lifted.

It’s not likely though that matter will end with talk in Parliament. Some action will still need to be taken, like what to do about the house.

 

The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our past articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: Some leeway should be given (Jun 19)
  2. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  4. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  6. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  7. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  9. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  13. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  14. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  15. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  16. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  17. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  18. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  19. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Bertha Henson

SO IS there an end in sight? Or should we brace ourselves for more dirty laundry and public acrimony? Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is back to work today and I doubt that it will be the economy or security that engages his attention. He should be deciding on next moves in the famiLEE saga, but what would they be?

I have no clue.

But here’s what people seem to want to see happen.

a. Disband that internal Cabinet committee.

Never mind that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has given more details about the committee’s work, it’s tainted in the public eye. Whether secret or not, or whether it’s a routine part of Cabinet work, the idea that a committee of ministers are talking to their leader just doesn’t make the cut as an impartial panel.

It goes to show how the public views the leadership – as a monolithic group or collective unit that moves together as one. PM Lee can assert that he has no influence over the decision-making process; that’s almost like saying that he has no say over who should be the next Prime Minister.

It doesn’t help that PM Lee told DPM Teo of his worries about the final will. And it’s DPM Teo who is heading the four-minister committee. Could this have been set up with a certain angle that’s beyond DPM Teo’s declaration that the work was only about whether the will shed light on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wishes?

Then there is the role played by Law Minister K Shanmugam in the committee. According to the Lee siblings, he was involved in some way too in the final will, yet he is on the committee. No matter how Mr Shanmugam denies any conflict of interest, the layman will simply see it as one man standing on two boats. It’s also troubling that the siblings were never told of the composition of the committee. Why would the committee see the need to withhold names from the people it is asking to make representations? Unless, of course, PM Lee doesn’t know who is on the committee either…

b. Set up a new independent committee of heritage experts or historians.

What is coming through is an acknowledgement that private wishes must also take into account national heritage values. Or the other way round.

The late Mr Lee had himself acknowledged that the G could gazette the house for conservation, but hoped that if so, it be open only to family members. His concern went beyond his abhorrence for monuments, he was also concerned about privacy and economics. He didn’t want strangers traipsing through, the upkeep of the house would be expensive and there are neighbours for whom household values have been kept down because of strictures on plot ratio in the area.

All three points can be addressed without resorting to wholesale demolition. DPM Teo suggested something in between, such as razing the House but keeping the basement dining room where so many historic meetings about Singapore’s future had been held.

The independent committee, just like the committee on how to commemorate Singapore’s founding fathers, might want to canvass the public for a solution that would satisfy both private and national needs. Plenty of ideas have been thrown up: like relocating the house or creating a replica elsewhere or putting some of the furnishings on permanent display in a museum.

This means that the committee isn’t interested in the validity of the will. If PM Lee believes that something is wrong with the final will, he should use the legal route. It also means that the siblings must give way on their demolish-or-nothing position. In fact, this “demolition guarantee’’ they are seeking from the G is a privilege that had not been given to many others whose homes have been compulsorily acquired by the G.

c. While the above two points might help resolve the issue of the House, there is still the defamatory material that has been made public.

Singaporeans might be aghast at the idea of watching a legal battle among family members (which is actually common) or think that this sinks Singapore’s reputation in foreign eyes. But what many perceive to be a private matter has led to some very public words. Defamation must be answered, especially when it concerns the reputation of the Prime Minister. He must be whiter than white, to stay true to his mantra on the necessity of having politicians of integrity.

In other words, the matter of the House can be settled in some way or other. But words made public can never be taken back – unless a public apology is made. And that doesn’t look like it’s forthcoming.

Besides his father’s legacy, PM Lee should be concerned about his own legacy as well. How terrible it would be if his name is tarnished in the last few years of his leadership – because he wants to act like an older brother shielding his family from the public eye, rather than a prime minister concerned about his public standing.

 

The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our past articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it”. (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17) 
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Bertha Henson

ANOTHER day, a few more missiles thrown. The FamiLEE saga has got technical, moving into the nitty-gritty details of who got involved when and over what in the matter of the last will of the late Lee Kuan Yew.

There are actually a lot more players in this than the three Lee siblings and their family members. Some have said things openly, like Kwa Kim Li who said that she was not involved in the preparation of the final will. Period. And like Morgan Lewis Bockius LLP of Mrs Lee Suet Fern, which said: “[Mrs Lee] will continue to spend a significant amount of time in Singapore as well as travel to Hong Kong, as she already does in support of her strong client relationships there, and as head of our international leadership team.” (Straits Times, Jun 16) Mrs Lee has stepped down from the position as managing partner of its combined practice in Singapore.

It seems that no one wants to take responsibility for that contentious last will. Perhaps, the late Mr Lee’s private secretary, Ms Wong Lin Hoe, will say something too as she was also intimately involved, or at least present, during those hours when the final will was settled on.

What’s the status of the saga now? A stalemate with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong insisting that Mrs Suet Fern was involved and the other side saying not true.

Is the fate of an old house worth such familial discord and national attention? How is this going to end?

Nobody is looking good here.

You can view PM Lee as a bully intent on getting his way or a son trying to do due diligence over his father’s will. What is his end-game? To preserve the house?

You may think that the siblings are making a mountain out of a molehill over the PM’s investigative attempts or that they truly believe their brother to be the tyrant of Singapore. What is their end-game? To demolish the house?

Is the house the be-all and end-all of this saga?

The Lee siblings said they wouldn’t have made things public if they didn’t think their eldest brother had gone too far. And that what can be done unto them can be done unto other mere mortals, although aside from the setting up of a secret ministerial committee, we are left wondering about other persecutorial moves.

They have a point though about the role of the ministerial committee; the Cabinet secretary didn’t go far enough with details. It is important that the G reveals more, or it would be seen as colluding with PM Lee (even though he said he has recused himself) in ‘persecuting’ the siblings.

PM Lee said he didn’t want to make open challenges during the probate hearing because it was essentially a family matter. He might want to change his mind now.

The fact is, the Prime Minister is being rubbished by his own siblings. This is a severe dent on his authority and image. He’s taken people to court for defamation for far less. Of course, the sticking point is that it would look really nasty to take family members to court. But the allegations of abuse of power, dishonesty and lying are too serious to let them go by. Never mind the family connection, the key issue is that he is the Prime Minister and his standing among the people he governs should be a prime consideration. He should practice what his G preaches, that only people of integrity should be in positions of power. He should take steps to defend assassinations to his character.

On the other hand, the two siblings might well do the same since the implication is that they, or at least, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, had connived to create a will that wasn’t in line with their late father’s intent. It does not matter that PM Lee had not challenged the will during probate. His statutory declaration to the mysterious ministerial committee has been made public and could be viewed as defamatory of the siblings.

Both Mr and Mrs Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling are people of some standing here and they, too, shouldn’t be content to let allegations go by. At least before leaving the country.

Maybe there will be those who do not have confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. But seriously, where else or who else should mediate in this matter? The other members of Cabinet? The President? An impartial committee of public-spirited citizens?

At least, the public acrimony would be halted in the run-up to a court case and people can get on with living their own lives without witnessing the spectacle.

The other question is whether a court decision would end the squabble once and for all. At the very least, it would determine who was lying. Yes, this would have consequences for both winning and losing party.

To put it bluntly, this would be a case that PM Lee cannot afford to lose. If he wins, then the other side would have to eat humble pie and pipe down. If he loses, this opens a whole can of worms on whether the Prime Minister is a trustworthy man. There might be chaos in the aftermath but what really is the alternative to this? Will everyone shutting up do the trick? Or we all pretend nothing happened?

We should just let the lawyers handle this.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image from Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

SO MUCH has been disclosed in the famiLEE saga that you wonder why some trigger-happy Singaporean hasn’t filed a police report. The insinuations of foul play, skullduggery and underhand tactics are material enough for a movie and far more exciting than any family dispute over inheritance that we have seen played out in court.

That’s the big question then: Why not turn to the courts to sieve the truth from mere words? Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had his chance to mount a legal challenge when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Will was undergoing probate in 2015 – but he didn’t. One can assume that he did not want what he described as a family matter to be made public. Or that new information came to light only after that.

Which brings us to the question of whether this mysterious ministerial committee led by Minister Lawrence Wong is supposed to act as a proxy court – to determine the validity of that last – and seventh – Will.

Given the amount of words levelled at either side of the famiLEE fence, you can probably make a case for defamation as well. There must be facts to back up the assertions of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling that their eldest brother is a liar. Likewise, there must be facts to bolster PM Lee’s claim that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife had not been honest about the way the last Will was drafted. To the layman, it sounds almost criminal.

Singaporeans reading the shots that have been fired over social media over the past three days at all hours of the day and night are left wondering about what the real issue is here.

Is this about the Oxley Road house being preserved or demolished? Is this about PM Lee’s unhappiness over the process of the will-making which he said he had been kept in the dark about? Is it about the Lee siblings’ angst over the domineering attitude of their eldest brother and his wife?

It began as a quarrel over the house. Now, remember that all three have stated publicly that they want to fulfill their father’s wish to have the house demolished eventually, especially if Dr Lee no longer wished to stay there.

Here’s the state of play about the house: It was bequeathed to PM Lee, who sold it to his brother. PM Lee offered it at $1 but with strings attached, such as leaving it open for the G to acquire it if it wants to and for any money eventually made from the house to go to charity. In each case, the deal fell through and became an outright sale at the market price but on condition that both PM Lee and his brother stump up half the value of the house to charity.

Reading his statutory declaration, PM Lee painted his brother as being too quick to want the house demolished and both siblings were unhappy about future proceeds going to charity. Read: they wanted the money which would be extremely substantial given its prime location.

TMG asked Mr Lee Hsien Yang about this and he replied: “I have paid market value for the house, and a further half its valuation as a donation to charity. Wei Ling has the right to live there for as long as she wishes. My only reason to buy it is to fulfill my parents wish one day. ”

So, we asked: Since the house is his anyway, why can’t he simply have it razed in line with what the siblings said were their parents’ wishes? “I cannot demolish the house while Wei Ling lives there. If she moves out, I would demolish it as soon as possible.”

Over the past two days, the siblings have been saying in public what G detractors have been complaining about for eons: That the G, or rather the Prime Minister, is so all-powerful that he can utilise all the G resources to stymie any move he disagrees with. The siblings go even further: that his alleged persecution of the siblings have made Mr Lee and his wife decide to re-locate.

It is heartbreaking to see the amount of distrust that had been brewing in what most people had assumed to be a tight-knit family under its late patriarch, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. What we now know is that familial relationships have been fraying for some time, even while the late Mr Lee was alive. Dr Lee’s inheritance, for example, had been subjected to changes and we are told of open quarrels between her and father and the interventions of her sister-in-law, Mrs Lee Suet Fern.

But seriously, what is this to us? Why is it important to know about the last Will and whether Mrs Lee, a corporate lawyer, played a role in drafting it? After all, it is a family matter.

It matters because there are allegations of impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister, the top political leader here, and this must surely affect his standing among the people. We probably wouldn’t care much if they were ordinary citizens but one of the parties happens to be the Prime Minister whose government has always upheld the principle of honesty and integrity. PS. Think of the number of lawsuits individual ministers have levelled against those who make far less damning comments about them.

Is PM Lee really a despot who die, die wants to preserve Oxley Road house for his own political advantage? Or are the siblings trying to do him in out of greed or whatever personal reason?

Looking at the exchanges, both sides do not seem to be engaging each other.

PM Lee is focused on the role Mrs Lee Suet Fern played in the drafting of the Will. As a daughter-in-law, she should not have taken part, he said, and challenged his siblings to give their side of the story. His brother, however, said his wife was never involved and had told the ministerial committee so several times.

Screenshot of the Summary of Statutory Declarations shared by PM Lee on his Facebook page.

Then the Lee siblings are focused on PM Lee’s public and private comments. PM Lee had told Parliament that the demolition was what his father wanted and which he would like to fulfill in his personal capacity as a son, but he then raised questions about his father’s thinking and wishes to the ministerial committee. The siblings said that this showed his ability to “misuse” his position and influence “over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda,” in a joint statement posted on Facebook (Jun 14).

Picture from Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s Facebook page.

If either side doesn’t want to answer the other and throws up their own spin to the public, how is anyone to be clear about what is happening?

Much light can be shed if the mystery over the ministerial committee is answered. Besides Minister Lawrence Wong, who else is on it? Why was it set up when it looks likely that Dr Lee would live in it for some time? For some unfortunate, unforeseen incident? What are the representations that have been made and can they be made public? If the committee does come up with recommendations, will they be made public?

Why the need for such secrecy? If it has to do with the late Mr Lee’s legacy for Singapore, shouldn’t the public be privy to it too? The opacity over the committee’s work is what makes this famiLEE saga even more intriguing.

So let’s hear no more from either Lee side but from the G itself, the people in the mysterious committee. Who are you? What do you do? What have you concluded? This is no longer a famiLEE affair, nor should it be a state secret.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Bertha Henson

THE first we heard of the ministerial committee was in the Lee siblings’ statement early Wednesday. We’re told that it is headed by Minister Lawrence Wong and that it has been querying the three Lee siblings about their late father’s will. The siblings said that Mr Wong informed them of its existence last July. It is an “internal’’ committee, said Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong, which seems to imply that no one else need to know about it and that it is well within the Cabinet’s right to do so. Since PM Lee Hsien Loong has recused himself from all G decisions regarding the family house in Oxley Road, he shouldn’t (or couldn’t) have directed its establishment.

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So, someone had the bright idea to set up a committee because it doesn’t look like everything about the house has been settled yet. What exactly has happened with the house? The short answer is nothing will happen to the house as long as Dr Lee Wei Ling lives in it. After that? That isn’t clear but the three siblings put out a statement that they would like the house demolished in line with their parents’ wishes. PM Lee said he was expressing this as his personal desire. In other words, he’s separating his private and official capacities. If the G (without PM Lee) decides to keep the house, it’s not clear how he, in his official capacity, would react. Maybe, he would say: “I will abide by the wishes of the Government of Singapore.’’ It’s been clear to many that the death of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had put PM Lee in the invidious position of having to act as both eldest son and Singapore leader. We watched closely whenever he spoke of his father because we’re voyeurs who want to see if the son or the PM shone through his words.

Why the need for such a committee? Who is on it and what is its job scope? Is this a routine thing like MRT trains being sent to China for repairs? Or was it set up to “persecute’’ the two Lee siblings, as Mr Lee Hsien Yang alleged?

According to Cabinet Secretary Tan, while nothing will be done with the house while Dr Lee lives in it; “the committee will be listing out the different options with regard to the House and the implications’’. This, he said, “will help a future Government when a decision needs to be taken about the house’’.  It will be looking at the historical and heritage significance of the house, besides taking into account the late Mr Lee’s wishes for it. 

Since the committee is supposed to help the future government of the day, we can assume its recommendations are just that. Not binding.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s response: “Why, when the Government says the government of the day will decide when Lee Wei Ling is no longer (living there)… is the Government of today convening this Cabinet committee?’’

So this mysterious committee has been summoning the three Lees to make representations. Should PM Lee be allowed to make representations since he has recused himself and the committee is made up of his subordinates? One argument would be that it was natural that PM Lee would be asked to give his views as the eldest son. And the committee should be trusted enough to give the PM’s opinion the same weight as those of his siblings.

The other two siblings, however, have painted their brother has having a firm grip on power and who would use organs of state to get his way. Dr Lee put it even more bluntly in her FB : “(If) PM can misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens.’’ They also said that PM Lee had queried the circumstances of the late Mr Lee’s will. Confirming this, the Cabinet secretary shed more light: Mrs Lee Suet Fern, wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, and lawyers from her firm played a role here and the committee wanted to know what it was. PM Lee has responded with a statutory declaration, but the two others have yet to do so.

But Mr Lee Hsien Yang said his wife had nothing to do with the will and was upset that the siblings were being asked the same questions repeatedly.

“If Lee Hsien Loong had any doubt about the validity of the Last Will, he should have challenged it in court,” he said in an interview with TODAY. “Frankly it is completely improper to use a cabinet committee to pursue an issue like this when the proper channel was at the court and probate.”

“… in his attempt to punish Hsien Yang for blocking what he wants to do with the house, (PM Lee) stipulated that in addition to paying Hsien Loong the market value of the house, he must also donate 50% of that value to charity.” – Dr Lee Wei Ling

It’s getting way too ugly. There’s even a money angle: Like how the settlement between the three Lees prescribes that Mr Lee Hsien Yang pay PM Lee, who was bequeathed the house, its full market value. And how, according to Dr Lee, that PM Lee, “in his attempt to punish Hsien Yang for blocking what he wants to do with the house, stipulated that in addition to paying Hsien Loong the market value of the house, he must also donate 50% of that value to charity.” In other words, Mr Lee Hsien Yang has to pay out 150 per cent of the value of the house. In 2015, property consultants estimated that the house could fetch $24 million, The Straits Times reported.

It looks like the breach in the family cannot be mended given the kind of words that have been levelled on both sides. In fact, they seem to border on the defamatory.

Let the siblings fight. On our part as citizens, we should be more concerned with the use of authority against individuals. For that, the G, now led by Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, might want to think about lifting the veil on this mysterious ministerial committee. There is no need to wait for PM Lee to return to Singapore over the weekend, since he has recused himself from all government decisions over the house.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons user Michał Jozefaciuk.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

 

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by Bertha Henson

WHAT did Singapore wake up to this morning? The tremors that have been reverberating for several months have become a political earthquake, which started while we were sleeping.

There is now clearly an open rupture in the Lee family, with the two younger siblings taking issue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) and his wife, Ms Ho Ching. Their denunciations could not have been made plainer, and go way beyond Dr Lee Wei Ling’s earlier description of their eldest brother as a dishonourable man who wouldn’t do right by their late father.

It is no longer about whether PM Lee intervened over the publication of Dr Lee’s columns in The Straits Times or whether an unnamed family member was right to hand over some documents from the family house to the G. As for the contentious Oxley Road house itself, it appears from the statement made by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee that the issue of whether to preserve or demolish the home they grew up in hasn’t been settled.

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It looked as if the siblings were miffed (to put it mildly) that their elder brother was opening the issue again, this time in front of a ministerial committee, which they said was staffed by his subordinates. To cut a long story short, the last decision publicised by all three siblings was that the they hoped that the G would allow the house to be demolished after Dr Lee stops living in it. Meanwhile, PM Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang each pledged half the value of the house to charity. The PM also recused himself from the G’s final decision on the property.

So what’s going on? Will everything be resolved if the house was simply left alone and demolished once Dr Lee no longer stayed there?

It looks like so much bad blood has been spilt that the mess is impossible to mop up. There was the accusation that PM Lee was questioning the circumstances of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s will. That he was abusing his position of authority to advance his political interests and those of his own family. For the first time, his eldest son, Mr Li Hongyi, was pulled into the row, with the statement alleging that the PM and his wife “harbour political ambitions” for him. Ms Ho Ching was further painted as a power-hungry matriarch who wielded too much influence among civil servants despite not having an official position.

Then there was the allegation that unlike the late Madam Kwa Geok Choo, Ms Ho had failed to stay out of politics: “The contrast between her [Mdm Kwa] and Ho Ching could not be more stark.”

Even the late Mr Lee was put in the picture: as a disappointed father who wished his son, the PM, could have made it easier for him to have his wishes fulfilled. Plus an intriguing reference as to how the late Mr Lee decided against the PM as executor of the estate.

What is most troubling are the insinuations that organs of State will be used against the siblings and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, so much so that the couple feels compelled to leave the country. What can this mean? It gives rise to speculation that the trio are being threatened in some way. Mrs Lee Suet Fern has a thriving law practice that specialises in corporate finance. But Mrs Lee was once at odds with the Law Ministry. Last year, she claimed that a scheme in 2008 has not benefited local lawyers enough. The Law Ministry then came out to rebut Mrs Lee’s comments by defending the scheme and saying that her arguments did not align with her previous arguments.

It is an ugly picture, but is it the truth? How much of it is emotional guesswork and how much of it can be ascertained? The PM, who is on leave till June 17, has categorically denied his siblings’ allegations, saying he would “continue serving Singaporeans honestly and to the best of my [his] ability”.

This is unlikely to stop tongues wagging. There are criticisms of the siblings’ act of washing the family’s dirty linen in public but also some glee that suspicions of high-handedness on the part of the PM and his wife appear to have been vindicated by the siblings.

Some would say that the crux of the issue is the house. It is now before a ministerial committee led by Mr Lawrence Wong. Is there an attempt to preserve the house – or not? Whose opinion matters more: the late Mr Lee (unless there is something wrong with the will) or those who want to see the house preserved for one reason or another?

Whether resolved or not, much damage has been done. The image and reputation of the Prime Minister as a son and brother have been attacked by his own siblings. It’s no business of ours, except that he was also attacked as a leader who abused his authority and his wife has been accused of overstepping the boundaries.

This is not something that can be papered over as a “personal, family issue’’ to be resolved behind closed doors.

 

Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
  16. Mystery deepens over secret tapes of Lee Kuan Yew (Sep 30, 2016)
  17. Time for the famiLEE to end the public spectacle (Apr 10, 2016)
  18. Dr Lee Wei Ling gagged? (Apr 2, 2016)

 

Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Bertha Henson

SO MINISTER for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim has given a definite “no” to standing for the presidency. But businessman Mr Mohamed Salleh Marican has said “yes”, even though his Second Chance business doesn’t reach the $500 million threshold in shareholder equity required under the amended laws on eligibility.

It’s half that.

So what, you say? After all, the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) has the discretion to certify that a candidate who does not automatically meet the criteria can stand, if it is satisfied that he has the experience and ability to do the job.

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Which is all well and good to give the PEC some leeway lest the elections are tainted with accusations that good, able people are being kept out because of bureaucratic criteria. Except that it would rock the foundation of the elected presidency that was solidified with the recent amendments, which is to make sure qualified candidates from the private sector have run big enough companies to be able to look after the reserves of Singapore Inc. But more importantly, there is this new wrinkle to consider: this coming election is reserved for the Malay community and the G has taken pains to stress that the qualifications hurdle must first be crossed before certifying that a person is from that community. This is to satisfy the merit-before-race principle that is so necessary in a multi-racial society.

MSM has canvassed many prominent Malays who have said an outright “no”. Still, Parliament Speaker Madam Halimah Yacob’s name has been bandied about as the Establishment candidate – and she has stayed silent on the matter. At least, she satisfies the public sector criteria of having held the post for at least three years. Will she, as Minister Yaacob said yesterday, be conveyed the president’s office as a symbol of multi-racialism? To Singaporeans, the answer would be “yes”. She was a vocal Member of Parliament (MP) and union leader, who ranged matters traversing the races, even as she dons a tudung, which isn’t viewed by the G as mainstream garb. The outside world, however, would be flummoxed at her Singaporean identity, which has always been coloured by the majority Chinese race. Perhaps, this is as it should be, lest some countries consider Singapore a Chinese society (and already at least one does).

Will there be a contest for the top job? Or will an Establishment candidate walk in? The G took pains to ensure that there was a contest for the first elected presidency in 1993, pitting the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong against a former Accountant-General, the late Mr Chua Kim Yeow, who was dubbed “the reluctant candidate”. This time, will it do the same to ensure the electoral legitimacy of the next president and assure Singaporeans that we have the best of the Malay community?

A contest seems vital for this election to assure the new President that he or she has the votes of the population, including the Chinese. But look at it another way: A contest will also wake Singaporeans up to the reality of a reserved election, a choice between two or more Malay candidates. However decorous and dignified the presidential candidates might be in their campaign, there is nothing to stop others from reprising all the old arguments against a reserved presidency and worse, include a racial element in what should be considered deliberations on who to vote for. Plus, let’s not forget that there are two legal challenges in the works.

 

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by Bertha Henson

AND so it begins.

From tomorrow (June 1), Malays who want a shot at the presidency can start picking for forms from the Elections Department in Pinsep Street. Be warned that they are pretty lengthy forms, requiring plenty of information, especially from a prospective candidate from the private sector. Data demanded includes the financial performance of the corporation he led over a period of at least three year’s of service.

Also be warned that the applicants who clear the expanded six-member Presidential Elections Committee chaired by Mr Eddie Teo, head of the Public Service Commission, will have their forms made public for all to see. The G has picked up a recommendation made to the Constitutional Commission looking into changes to the presidency last year, that such transparency would have a “salutary effect” on those who think they can fudge their credentials.

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Given that this year’s presidential election is reserved for members of the Malay community, applicants must, after clearing the credentials hurdle, go through a committee to confirm their ethnicity, much like candidates competing in parliamentary elections as members of a Group Representation Constituency. The chairman of the Malay sub-committee is Mr Imran Mohamad, who was the former chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals.

Details of the technical process were gazetted earlier today, with the election expected in September. President Tony Tan’s term ends on August 31. The G press statement makes no mention of the court challenges that have been filed, including over the concept of a hiatus-triggered reserved presidency.

Another new feature is a statutory declaration by prospective candidates that they have read and understood explanatory material in the nomination paper on the role of the President. You can read it here. This is to prevent a repeat of 2011 presidential election campaign, during which candidates strayed into areas beyond the constitutional role of President.

While not mandatory, applicants will also be asked to voluntarily undertake to conduct their campaign in a “dignified” and “decorous” manner that reflects the office of Head of State.

Yes, even if two or more Malays vie for the post, it will be a very tame election.

Read more on what we wrote about Tan Cheng Bock’s and M Ravi’s legal challenge.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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