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Property at 38 Oxley Road (photo - Google Maps)

38 Oxley Road saga: One year on, what have we learnt?

by Augustine Low

On this day one year ago, Singaporeans woke up to a Facebook post by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling with the heading “What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values?”

It was a scathing attack on their brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, casting aspersions on his character, conduct, motives and leadership.

Thus began the saga of 38 Oxley Road. The drama was played out publicly and spectacularly for weeks. It was thrust into the living rooms, office corridors, corporate boardrooms, wet markets and coffee shops; it was all Singaporeans talked about, it reverberated far beyond our shores.

One year on, do we know any better?

We know that PM Lee – memorably labelled “dishonourable son” by his younger sister – has soldiered on undaunted and unbowed. On the surface at least. Does he carry any emotional and psychological scars?

We know also that PM Lee invokes the name of his father from time to time. As the solitary one, estranged from the siblings, he clings on dearly to the memory of his late father.

The most poignant moment came during a CNBC interview early in the year when PM Lee recounted the sort of advice his father would be giving him now. The interviewer followed up with: “You can hear his voice in your head?” And the reply from PM Lee: “Yes, we can imagine that.”

So we know, too, that PM Lee carries the voice of his father with him. Does he hear his father telling him to soldier one, that he cannot give up, that he has done no wrong?

We also know that PM Lee’s colleagues have done what they can to not aggravate the situation. The ministerial committee for 38 Oxley Road has outlined three broad options for the property. But this is nothing more than buying time and kicking the can down the road.

As long as there is bickering over the fate of 38 Oxley Road, as long as PM Lee refuses to accept the finality of his father’s last will and testament, as long as Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern remain in self-exile, as long as Li Shengwu is unable or unwilling to return home because of contempt of court proceedings against him, as long as Lee Wei Ling simmers with discontent, we have the House of Lee in tatters.

And a fallen House of Lee threatens to undermine the memory and the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.

Why is the family central to the life’s philosophy and legacy of Lee Kuan Yew? Perhaps his most revealing thoughts came in an interview with American journalist and TV host Fareed Zakaria in 1994.

Telling Fareed in his usual emphatic manner that “family came first,” Lee elaborated: “It (the family) is the basic concept of civilisation. Governments will come, governments will go, but this (the family) endures.”

Seeing those words in the context of what has happened since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew – the seemingly irrevocable fallout among the children and grandchildren – it is unfortunate, even heartbreaking, that the last thing he wanted to happen happened.

Finally, we have also learnt in the past week about the richness of life’s ironies. PM Lee has been so staunchly leading Singapore as gracious host for the Trump-Kim summit, and as advocate for peace in the Korean peninsula and peace in the world, yet peace for the Lee family has taken a backseat, still as remote and elusive as ever.

Augustine Low is a proud but concerned citizen. Voicing independent, unplugged opinion is his contribution to citizen engagement.