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.

Continue reading “The battle over Lee Kuan Yew’s last will”

Jom, our new media outfit

Dear friends and readers, Thanks for all your support these past years! As some of you know, I have, along with Charmaine Poh and Tsen-Waye Tay, recently co-founded Jom, a new media outfit. Jom will be a weekly digital magazine covering arts, culture, politics, business, technology and more in Singapore. I am slowly winding down my writing elsewhere, and will soon be writing only for … Continue reading Jom, our new media outfit

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). 

Continue reading “The politics of repeal”

Separation

The wildest Covid-19 border story I’ve heard involves a Malaysian speeding in her car towards Singapore, only to find a huge jam at the border crossing. Arriving at six in the evening, this friend of a friend had given herself plenty of time to make the midnight cut-off, after which foreigners would no longer be easily allowed into Singapore and the complications of modern travel would kick in: quarantines, swabs and stay-at-home notices. With her family and job waiting in Singapore, she had to make it back.

To be sure, there is always some traffic on the two bridges that connect the Malay peninsula to the island of Singapore. Memang jam gao gao, surely there will be a heavy jam, a Malaysian might quip, combining three languages in the most delightful creole phrase. Memang is Malay for surely. Gao is Hokkien for thick or heavy. And jam is, well, not the strawberry kind. Memang jam gao gao, but nobody expected it to be like this.

Continue reading “Separation”

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.

Continue reading “Edmund Wee of Epigram Books”

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.

Continue reading “Tan Cheng Bock: A vision of Singapore’s future or past?”

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.

Continue reading “How structural racism penalises minorities: is your HDB flat worth less?”

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.

Continue reading “Don’t date other races: the ghost of Lee Kuan Yew appears”

Is the doctors’ letter fair opinion? Or a dangerous view that should be kept out of the public square?

(Disclosure: both my parents are medical specialists; my wife has a graduate diploma in family medicine though she no longer practices.)

Over the past week an interesting informational contest has emerged in Singapore over the publication of an open letter by twelve doctors to parents in which they cast doubt on the value of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine—and broadly any vaccine that relies on messenger RNA technology—to children.

Their letter has been meet with ridicule by the establishment, including calls by Calvin Cheng, a former nominated member of parliament and conservative commentator, for their medical licenses to be revoked (as part of his broader critique of the knowledge and expertise of family physicians).

Continue reading “Is the doctors’ letter fair opinion? Or a dangerous view that should be kept out of the public square?”