(Bloomberg) — The estranged younger brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is considering running for the largely ceremonial role of president this year, a sign that an ongoing family feud could begin to overshadow the city-state’s politics.
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Lee Hsien Yang, 65, spoke about his plans to Bloomberg News after the government revealed an ongoing police investigation against him and his wife over the handling of the will of his father Lee Kuan Yew, who founded modern Singapore.
“There is an opinion that depending on who drives them, if I ran, they would be in serious trouble and could lose,” Lee Hsien Yang said by phone, referring to the ruling People’s Action Party led by his brother. “A lot of people have come to me. They really want me to run. It’s something I would consider.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not immediately comment. The government has said the police investigation was an opportunity for Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern to defend themselves and that their refusal to participate raises questions.
Lee Hsien Yang, former CEO of Singtel, has been living in self-imposed exile in Europe with his wife for months. He wouldn’t say where they lived. With the investigation ongoing, Lee Hsien Yang said he was unsure “what are the chances of me returning to Singapore in the near future.”
While the prime minister heads the government in Singapore, the presidency has a number of powers, such as the right to veto spending bills or government requests to draw on past reserves, which was done to balance the budget during the pandemic. help strengthen. The president must also sign official appointments.
While candidates for the presidential race are supposed to be impartial under Singapore’s constitution, the current president was a former senior official of the PAP, which has governed Singapore since independence in 1965. PAP is trying to win over younger voters facing a rising cost of living after its worst-ever showing in the 2020 election.
The next national vote will likely also mark the end of Lee Hsien Loong’s roughly two decades in power. Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has been asked to take over after another deputy, Heng Swee Keat, stepped down as heir apparent in April 2021.
Since the patriarch’s death in 2015, the Lee siblings have been at odds for years. It largely revolves around whether a colonial-era bungalow near the glitzy shopping district where Lee Kuan Yew lived for most of his 91 years should be torn down.
Lee Hsien Loong, 71, has expressed disappointment in the past that his younger brother and sister Lee Wei Ling have made private family matters public.
The road to Lee Hsien Yang’s presidency will be difficult. To be eligible as a candidate, he must meet the requirements set by the Presidential Election Commission, which consists mainly of government officials. Critics have said in the past that the committee has too much discretion in deciding whether candidates are fit to run.
His wife Lee Suet Fern was suspended from practicing law for 15 months in 2020. She said at the time that she disagreed with the punishment for professional misconduct in the handling of the will. Their son Li Sheng Wu was fined the same year for a private message on Facebook criticizing the government for its handling of the case.
This is not the first time Lee Hsien Yang has run for public office. In 2020, he joined the opposition’s Progress Singapore Party and briefly flirted with the idea of running against his brother in elections in what critics called a stunt to raise awareness for the opposition. Lee Hsien Yang said in a Facebook post, then backed off because “Singapore doesn’t need another Lee.”
He was still at the center of his party’s electoral campaign, which saw no outright electoral victories, although a rule requiring opposition representation in parliament awarded it two non-constituency seats. The PAP, on the other hand, won 89% of the seats up for grabs, but it was the worst performance for the ruling party as the opposition Workers’ Party made significant headway.
(Updates with Lee Hsien Yang’s party 2020 election screening)
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