COMMENT: Lee Wei Ling... a dissident in the making?

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (2nd L) and his family celebrate his 80th birthday in Singapore in this September 16, 2003 file photo. From left, Lee’s daughter Lee Wei Ling, wife Kwa Geok Choo, son Lee Hsien Loong and daughter-in-law Ho Ching. REUTERS/David Loh/Files

After a week of heady revelations and counter revelations, Dr Lee Wei Ling is now like a battered and bruised tigress, licking her wounds and waiting for an opportunity to strike back.

Her personality is that of a pit bull terrier with a tenacious instinct to not let go, said people who are familiar with her and her past actions.

When her father was alive, she had his wisdom to calm and even control her. Without the protective cover of a man she deeply respects and listens to, expect her to come to back fighting.

The fact that she took down a chunk of her Facebook post about her brother, the prime minister means she will let this fight go and will write about the things that can embarrass the government and, in the process, her family.

With the week-long war of attrition with the Straits Times (ST), Janadas Devan and now the PM reaching a climax on Sunday, she will look for new holes to punch, new peeves to highlight.

Those who speculated on  a post-LKY era of a split in the ruling party or a new group of establishment types waiting in the wings to mount a serious challenge to the PM and his team may have been blindsided by a dissident emerging from Singapore’s first family.

Sunday’s blitz against the PM was the most bizarre and damaging. Dr Lee released an email thread with ST in which she accused him of abusing his power to hold events marking her father’s first death anniversary last month.

All this to establish a dynasty, she charged in her email exchange with the paper.

“The accusations are completely untrue,” the PM said in a statement soon after.

The Lees, both father and son, have never taken such accusations lying down. Since they have successfully sued those who made statements somewhat similar to Dr Lee’s, the question of whether Dr Lee will face such a fate will be asked.

Dr Lee’s decision to edit out the references to the PM in her Facebook page shows that she must have been advised of the nasty consequences of her action.

This must be a sad day for Singapore’s most powerful family as Singaporeans became riveted by an unfolding drama of a daughter who started off being unhappy with the ST and now showing her anger and displeasure with her brother.

And what a spectacle it has become in a country that has perfected the art of political tai chi, a skill that helped it sweep personality and other issues under the carpet.

That has been really the result of Lee Kuan Yew’s stature and his ability to instill fear among his confidantes and others that if they showed their dissent in public, the consequences will be disastrous.

But Dr Lee’s ability to go for the jugular is familiar to those who recall her disagreement with A-Star executive chairman Philip Yeo about the direction of the biomedical industry. The former director of National Neuroscience Institute, who is currently a senior advisor with the institute, was against Yeo’s strategy to make biomedical research a new economic winner – and she made it known vividly.

“I would challenge that, having never practised as a doctor, Mr Yeo is strategising about biomedical research directions in an ivory tower,” she said in a letter published in Today in 2007.

Yeo was no ordinary civil servant. He was a blue-eyed boy of the establishment, having helmed the Economic Development Board and taken the lead in many big-ticket projects.

Yeo left A-Star for a less high-profile job in Spring Singapore soon after.

But in this latest war of attrition with The Straits Times and Janadas, and now her brother, Dr Lee seems to have bitten off more than she can chew.

The ST hit back by saying Dr Lee had plagiarised chunks of her article and Janadas, a former editor with the paper and now the chief of government communications, said in a curveball attack that her pieces needed heavy editing. ”It was like sailing through fog,” he said in a reply.

She also lost ground when she complained that the paper, in not publishing her article, had curtailed her freedom of speech
.  It was laughable that she should complain about a principle that many have complained about for ages and has been dismissed by her father’s and her brother’s governments.

Dr Lee has found the power of Facebook and will use it not just for her musings but also to take pot shots at the establishment and the media.

One of the first battlefields is likely to be the family’s Oxley Road house, which she and her family want demolished eventually. Lee Kuan Yew had also stated in his will for this wish to be carried out.

But conservation experts believe that the more than 100-year-old property should be preserved because of its historical value.

It is very difficult to see how the Preservation of Monuments Board can go against this important body of opinion and rule in favour of the Lee family. And if that happens, Dr Lee is unlikely to take this sitting down.

As the battle lines are being drawn, those Singaporeans who have always wanted a high-profile dissident to join their cause might have just found one in Dr Lee Wei Ling.


P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who is the former chief editor of TODAY newspaper, and a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.

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