Can Singapore carry on Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy?

By Xu Liping Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/20 11:23:39

Can Singapore carry on founder’s legacy?

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's family feud has spilled out in public again. Lee's younger siblings launched a scathing attack on him into a series of Facebook posts, accusing him of abusing his power and influencing the government to drive personal agendas.

Lee denied the allegations and apologized for the feud, saying it had damaged Singapore's reputation. How the family dispute may influence Singapore's politics has triggered heated discussions.

At the heart of the dispute is a legal tussle over their late father Lee Kuan Yew's house in central Singapore. Lee's siblings accused the prime minister of "deliberately" misrepresenting their father's will that his house be eventually demolished, rather than becoming a monument to him.

In the statement, the siblings claimed that Lee Hsien Loong and his wife oppose demolition because preservation of the house would gain the prime minister political mileage.

The first family's feud seems to be spilling out into the country's political arena. How Lee, the country's prime minister since 2004, would shape Singapore's political landscape after his father's death is a realistic issue he has to face. Meritocracy is a key reason the ruling People's Action Party remains evergreen in the country's political arena.

Ruling from 1959 to 1990, Lee Kuan Yew has been credited with turning Singapore from a resource-poor colony into one of the most successful economies in the world, with a dynamic tech industry.

The founding father's political success is a result of his aspirations to support talented people. A large number of talented people were absorbed into the government during Lee Kuan Yew's term in office, including many dissidents, and this has contributed to the country's prosperity and stability.

However, Lee Hsien Loong is alleged to advocate personal authority, putting those mediocre but loyal to him in important positions. There are controversies within the first family and even the ruling party on whether the prime minister could inherit his father's political legacy.

"We believe, unfortunately, that Hsien Loong is driven by a desire for power and personal popularity. His popularity is inextricably linked to Lee Kuan Yew's legacy," the siblings' joint statement reads.

The era of strongman politics has come to an end in Southeast Asia. The Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, Indonesia's Joko Widodo and other leaders of Southeast Asian countries are not descendants of the military or political powerful people.

Lee's alleged attempts to pass his political ambitions on to his son are highly likely to fail in Singapore.

The siblings' appeals have reflected the country's societal, economic and political conflicts, and the publicity of the first family's feud highlights the subtle changes in Singapore's political landscape. As a tiny state, Singapore's economy is linked to global economic growth.

With a weak recovery of the world economy, Singapore has been vexed by sluggish economic growth in recent years. How to reform and renovate the country's economic pattern is still unclear during Lee Hsien Loong's term in office. Political and societal conflicts stand out in Singapore amid unsatisfactory economic performances.

The inheritance of Lee Kuan Yew's political legacy is of vital importance for Singapore at its current stage. Meritocracy is one of the most significant legacies of Lee Kuan Yew, and a fundamental reason for Singapore's rise from a colony to one of the wealthiest nations in Southeast Asia.

Whether the Singaporean government can successfully inherit and carry forward this legacy is at the core of the country's politics.

The author is a senior fellow of the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Newspaper headline: Can Singapore carry on founder’s legacy?


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