Disclaimer: Rice does not endorse or support any political party in Singapore.
On Wednesday 24 June, Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, announced he had joined the Progress Singapore Party (PSP). While he hasn’t disclosed if he will run in the upcoming GE, the news that a Lee brother officially positioned himself with an opposition party had the country buzzing.
This was met by some with suspicion—at RICE, my colleague argued that PSP will have to prove that Lee Hsien Yang’s ambitions are not personal.
The move was shocking, but it was also expected. It’s no secret the Lee family has been feuding for years. During that time, Lee Hsien Yang has also been making bold statements in opposition to the PAP—his attendance of PinkDot last year was just one example. After publicly challenging the ruling party again and again, the only way left for Lee Hsien Yang to voice his dissent was to position himself in local politics with an opposition party.
While it is possible that his motivations are personal, ultimately, it’s not about what fuelled the move, but what he does with it.
Lee Hsien Yang is an elite. He holds immense power and influence. We can’t overlook the power of dynastic politics in Singapore, where being Lee Kuan Yew’s son puts him in a position to legitimise the voices of countless Singaporeans who might be underrepresented. And if his personal beef with his siblings is what has pushed him to finally make this choice, then so be it.
To date, both the ruling party and the opposition have consistently failed to address certain minority issues—specifically LGBTQ+ related—leaving these communities with no one to turn to. For them, closing one eye to the personal/political chess game that might be driving PSP is a small trade-off for equal representation. For these Singaporeans, saying, “Oh, but it’s personally motivated,” is going to do little to divert their support for Lee Hsien Yang.
After years of pressure to repeal S377A, politicians have failed to address the issue seriously. In March this year, the high court dismissed another three challenges to law the criminalizes gay sex in yet another blow for the queer community. On top of this, most PAP members have never addressed LGBTQ+ issues, let alone support them, further marginalising the community.
The thing is, if you’ve been fighting so hard for so long, you’ll build ties with anyone who’s willing to take your side. In the eyes of many marginalised groups, all the PAP has done for decades is play the field as well. So what is so wrong about choosing a party that is equally savvy, but at least lends you a voice?
We have to remember that this is politics, and that the PAP has been playing the game for decades. Why aren’t opposition parties levelling up to the fight? Why do they rarely offer citizens viable hard-hitting alternatives?
When pressed by a journalist for clarity on PSP’s election plans, Lee Hsien Yang replied saying, “When I’m ready to disclose that, you will find out.”*
He knows the game—and he is not hiding it.
The leading opposition, The Workers Party (WP), plays it safe by positioning itself as the ‘balance’ in parliament—merely there to hold PAP accountable. It doesn’t aspire to win, and this choice, though strategic, may leave voters feeling weary.
But with PSP, there’s finally a party that is willing to test the boundaries. It is ready to challenge the status quo, and seems unafraid to propose the idea of forming an alternative government.
Whether you support them or not doesn’t matter, because it’s refreshing to watch potential candidates battle it out.
PSP may or may not win significantly at this coming General Election, but its existence adds clarity to the currently hazy definition of what role the ‘the opposition’ really plays in Singapore’s political landscape.
The opposition may finally be allowed to envision itself as an alternative, not just a ‘check’ on the existing government—and that may be what Lee Hsien Yang wants to encourage.
As he said, “It’s possible to be loyal Singaporeans, to be proud of what has been accomplished in the past, to recite with pride, ‘We, the citizens of Singapore’. To love Singapore. And yet, to not vote PAP”
We have yet to see if Lee Hsien Yang will be fielded as a PSP candidate. But no matter the outcome, we need to offer him a chance to be assessed outside of his family feud. If we let that define him, we lose the ability to look objectively at what he could bring to the table this election.
*Correction made 25.06.20, 10 PM. We had previously misattributed a quote to Lee Hsien Yang that was made by Dr Tan Cheng Bock.
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