A House Divided

Welp. So it looks like the tussle over prime real estate in Singapore has gotten POLITICAL.

On the one hand the younger Lee siblings are now saying something that people have been saying for ages: the Lee family dynasty is an aristocratic establishment that cuts against the Singaporean principle of merit-based status/privilege. That state organs have been used oppressively against opponents of the elite. They’re saying it from a position of some authority and credibility. If anyone knows whether something is rotten in the state of Singapore, it ought to be the prince and princess.

On the other hand, I don’t think it lies in their mouths to say such things. They’ve faced some setbacks and some nastiness, I’m sure, but it’s not like people haven’t suffered worse. They haven’t been bankrupted (yet) or sent into exile, or detained without trial, or subjected to intense ‘questioning’. They and their families have benefitted for years from, if not collusion in, then at least tacit, silent acceptance of the oppressive status quo. Lee the Younger was a grown-ass man of thirty during Operation Spectrum. Didn’t hear him using his exalted position to call out abuses of state power.

They’re not scoring a lot of points with me for apparently ‘taking a stand’ against the Prime Minister. They’ve had much better causes to stand for, and much more noble opportunities. There’s very little truth to be spoken to power when all you’re ultimately saying is, “Hands off, that’s mine!”

The Land Acquisition Act is a thing. The lack of any personal right to property enshrined in the Constitution is a thing. It’s a bit late to wring your hands and moan about how the lack of proper protections/checks and balances can be used to deprive ordinary citizens of what’s theirs.

On the actual house-thing, I’m sure the house itself is a canard. But Singapore’s political elite have sunk the roots of their legitimacy deep in a somewhat pruned form of certain Asian beliefs, including filial piety and authoritarianism (conveniently omitting other things like being gracious and cultured). A challenge to the house, and to the old patriarch’s last will and wish, is a challenge to the establishment’s moral authority.

Frankly, I think both sides have lost something. The younger siblings, even if they have their way, have burned a lot of bridges. The Prime Minister is in a bit of a bind: if he continues demolishing the house, he’ll do so under a cloud; if he doesn’t demolish the house, then he’ll be seen to capitulate to pressure, and lead to speculation that perhaps there’s truth to the other accusations, as well.

I do think that the Singaporean people have gained something. The political dynasties in Singapore have rested their weight on clay feet for a long time. It’s good for everyone that people are noticing the cracks.

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