The battle over Lee Kuan Yew’s last will

This is my final piece on this site. From now on, please follow my work at Jom, a weekly digital magazine covering arts, culture, politics, business, technology and more in Singapore.


Lee Kuan Yew wanted his entire house at 38 Oxley Road demolished—nothing else—but he was aware that it might not be.

My formulation is the product of over a year’s worth of research by our team into the two competing narratives proffered by his feuding children: Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, on the one side; and Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, executors of the estate, on the other.

It puts Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking between the two, albeit certainly closer to the executors’.

Furthermore, based on the available evidence, it is my belief that, although mistakes may have been made by some of them, the following people have been unfairly judged in this matter by their respective public critics: Ho Ching and Lee Suet Fern, Lee Kuan Yew’s daughters-in-law; as well as Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.

There are still lingering questions in my mind about Lee Hsien Loong’s chosen path of engagement, specifically his decision not to query his father’s thinking (and possible foul play regarding the will) in court, as might have been expected, but instead to cooperate with (and thus endorse) a private investigation by the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road (MC). The committee’s formation and findings are, in my view, problematic.

These arguments are substantiated in an e-book that is available here for free (click to download the PDF), and for which this essay is meant to serve as a synopsis and entry-point.

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The politics of repeal

Many in Singapore cheered the sight of Henry Kwek, a People’s Action Party (PAP) politician, at last week’s Pink Dot. It was apparently the first time in 14 years that a ruling party politician had attended the event.

In another picture Jamus Lim, a Workers’ Party (WP) politician there in his personal capacity, is seen next to an attendee carrying a placard, “Change starts now”.

The sight of these two politicians there is remarkable because one of the things the PAP and WP have hitherto agreed on is that there will be no change, both seemingly content with the status quo: the maintenance of the S377A law that criminalises sex between men accompanied by a sort of legally contentious *wink wink* caveat that the cops won’t enforce it (an oddity in this supposedly “rules-based” society). 

At least the PAP and the WP have been clear about their positions. The two other major parties, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), have not. (The SDP called for repeal as far back as 2007 but in recent years has appeared to dodge the issue.)

So why was Kwek there? Rumours suggest that the PAP has decided to repeal S377A. One theory is that it will be a swansong of Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, before he hands over the party’s reins to heir apparent Lawrence Wong, a sort of sop to Singapore’s long-disaffected liberal segment (that the party hopes to win back). 

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Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

This is a conversation with old buddy Unsu Lee and newer one Douglas Evans about media, censorship, diversity, propaganda and democracy. Thanks for having me on your show guys! Was lots of fun.And of course, thanks a lot to Min-Wei Ting, the man behind the camera. Copy from Breaking the Spell: “Why Care About Media and Democracy in Singapore? A Conversation with Sudhir Vadaketh When … Continue reading Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

Edmund Wee of Epigram Books

(Note: This is a longer version of a profile first published in May on Mekong Review. I have italicised the extra passages.)

Epigram Books owes its existence partly to Lee Kuan Yew’s secret police.

In 1981, as news broke that the Workers’ Party’s J.B. Jeyaretnam had won a by-election, thus breaking the ruling People’s Action Party’s stranglehold over Singapore’s parliament, plain-clothes officers from the Internal Security Department watched in horror as a young reporter from the Straits Times jumped up and down at the counting centre.

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Visiting my godfather’s grave

The visit to Uncle Sushil’s grave offered me a chance to think more broadly about our loved ones far away. Not being able to see them, for those of us lucky to avoid the worst, has been one of the central tragedies of the pandemic. In a world of restricted travel, how do we maintain those bonds?

When borders first closed, I immediately thought of my mum’s mum in Indore and my father’s brother in Toronto. Nani is over ninety and Uncle Sushil had experienced a number of recent health issues and scares. Pre-Covid I had always imagined that if they were nearing the end, I’d just hop on a plane to see them.

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Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data

For the first time since 2004, Team Singapore failed to win a single medal at the Olympics. Much attention understandably focussed on swimmer Joseph Schooling, who had won our first ever gold at Rio 2016, for the 100m butterfly, setting an Olympic record in the process. Following Schooling’s failure to qualify for the 100m semi-final at Tokyo 2020, finishing last in his heat, internet commentaries … Continue reading Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data

Tan Cheng Bock: A vision of Singapore’s future or past?

(Note: I researched and wrote this piece in mid 2019. It was originally published on New Naratif. Am republishing here for those who might have missed it. I have made edit notes on a couple of things that are out of date.)

The entry of Tan Cheng Bock and his newly registered Progress Singapore Party into the political fray has stirred up excitement. But is Tan, a former PAP backbencher, offering a vision of Singapore’s future, or a return to its past?

The winds that usher in Singapore’s election season are, in many ways, familiar to illiberal democracies everywhere. Flags and faces popping up; government handouts; public largesse on incumbent brand-building, camouflaged as patriotic projects; the instilling of fear through new demons within and old ones abroad; and the obsequious submission of media outfits that have grown dependent on juicy government contracts.

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How structural racism penalises minorities: is your HDB flat worth less?

Over the past week Singaporeans have been debating the definition of racism. Many within the establishment appear eager to define it narrowly: only crude, interpersonal racism qualifies. 

So, if somebody professes the inherent superiority of one race over another, or uses a racial slur—“Kiling Kia”, “Cina Babi”, etc.—that’s racist. Anything less obvious, so it goes, does not deserve the racist label.

The desire not to call something racist has sparked a cottage industry of euphemisms: “racial preferences”, “cultural insensitivity”, “racially problematic” and so on. Racism is Singapore’s Voldemort.

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Don’t date other races: the ghost of Lee Kuan Yew appears

Lee Kuan Yew once said that he would rise from his grave if he ever felt that “something is going wrong”. 

Few Singaporeans would have expected to see him reincarnated as Tan Boon Lee, a senior lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Engineering.

On June 6th, Tan is seen on a Facebook video publicly admonishing Dave Parkash, who is of mixed Indian-Filipino ancestry, for dating a Thai-Chinese girl (behind the camera).

“I have nothing against Indians, but I think it is racist for an Indian to marry a Chinese girl,” said Tan, in a statement so puzzling and prejudiced yet also so familiar to minorities in Singapore, in its inversion of racism. You are the racist, not me.

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