Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong apologises for public family feud

National TV airs video of Lee saying sorry for unprecedented dispute, which he said had damaged country’s reputation.

Singapore’s prime minister has apologised for a bitter family feud over his late father’s legacy, saying it had damaged the country’s reputation.

Lee Hsien Loong and two younger children of the city-state’s revered founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, have been attacking each other on Facebook and international media for days as a dispute over the future of the family home became public in a spectacle that has shocked Singaporeans.

“I deeply regret that this dispute has affected Singapore’s reputation and Singaporeans’ confidence in the government,” Lee said in a statement read in a pre-taped video aired by the national broadcaster Mediacorp.

“As your prime minister, I apologise to you for this. And as the eldest of the siblings, it grieves me to think of the anguish that this would have caused our parents if they were still alive.”

The Lees are the closest thing Singapore has to royalty, and have dominated the wealthy island’s politics for nearly six decades.

The patriarch served as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, and Lee has been in power since 2004. Singapore has only had one other prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.

The row burst into the open last Wednesday, when the prime minister’s sister Wei Ling and younger brother Hsien Yang released a statement accusing him of misusing his power and trying to milk their father’s legacy for political gain.

The row largely centres around a clause in Lee Kuan Yew’s will that stated that the family home should be demolished after his death.

Singapore’s founder was known for frugality, and was opposed to the emergence of a personality cult after his death. He feared the house would become a monument, with strangers walking through the family’s private quarters.

The sparsely furnished five-bedroom house in Oxley Road was built in the late 19th century in what used to be a plantation district, and gained value as Singapore became urbanised and prosperous.

A property agent told AFP it is likely to be worth at least 24 million Singapore dollars (£13.6m).

Wei Ling and Hsien Yang say Lee is attempting to block the house’s demolition to exploit their father’s legacy, including grooming his own son to be a third-generation leader.

The property hosted many of the early meetings of the People’s Action party, which has governed Singapore since 1959.

Lee has denied the accusations. He claims the demolition clause was hastily added to his father’s will under dubious circumstances, after being deleted in two previous versions.

A cabinet committee is considering what should happen to the property, but Lee says he is not involved in any of the decisions.

“Much as I would like to move on, and end a most unhappy experience for Singaporeans, these baseless accusations against the government cannot be left unanswered,” he said. He said he would address all questions on the matter when parliament sits again on 3 July

Lee Kuan Yew died in March 2015 at the age of 91, triggering an outpouring of grief across Singapore, which he transformed into one of the world’s richest societies while muzzling the media and quelling dissent.

Political opponents and dissidents have been hit with financially ruinous defamation lawsuits.

The family row, played out on social media, has riveted the nation of 5.6 million, whose citizens are unused to open disagreement among the political elite.