From ‘PM Lee does not see his children joining politics’, 28 Jan 2012, article in asiaone.com
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, said on Thursday that he does not think that his children will enter politics. “They will have to decide but if you ask me now I think the odds are not on it,” he told the Davos meeting of business and political elite.
“It’s a different generation, it’s a new world, there are so many opportunities in Singapore,” said Lee.
…Asked what it was like living under his father’s shadow, Lee said: “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never not had it. It’s tough enough, but you have to live with it.”
Lee said his illustrious father “had expectations, but he left me to do my own thing. He did not push me into this, and neither would it have worked had he done so.”
It’s a strange, reluctant response to a commonly asked question, but PM Lee’s double-negative admission that living under his father’s shadow was ‘tough enough’ smacks of weariness of being asked the same question over and over again by international journalists. Something to be expected perhaps, having to brush aside accusations of nepotism and rising up the ranks as a politician in your own right. At some point, such persistent hints about dynastic ascension within the PAP would incur the wrath of the Lees, having sued the New York Times for suggesting that this succession was no accident. But journalists are an unapologetic, fearless lot, and once the small talk is over, they would almost always jump casually into a loaded conversation about PM Lee’s father LKY and what it’s like being compared to him all the damn time.
In 2006, this is what PM Lee said in response to reporter Anjali Rao from CNN Talkasia on the same topic.
(On his kids)…They have to find their own paths… They have to go with what they are good at, decide what they want to do with their lives, and make something out of it. They will not always listen to me. And I don’t think they will go into politics because they happen to be my children….My parents were lawyers; they let us choose our own paths.
Q (Rao): Some have said that as long as he (Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew) remains in Cabinet, he’s the one who’s really pulling the strings?
A: (PM Lee) (Laughs) There’s no end to this argument. People have to look at me and decide whether I’m speaking for myself, or whether there’s a little earphone giving me instructions.
In 1996, also at Davos, then DPM Lee had the honour of crossing swords with the late William Safire, who raised the issue of nepotism, to which Hsien Loong issued the challenge to debate this in court, that he was chosen by voters and appointed DPM by PM Goh Chok Tong, not his father, despite such proceedings happening under the latter’s watchful, probably hopeful, eyes.
Charges of nepotism came fast barely after he stepped into the PAP arena in 1984, to which Hsien Loong gamely, and genially, replied that he is ‘not his father’ and defended the PAP’s ‘open’ selection process. Just before being appointed PM he was faced with the same onslaught of questions on whether all this was preordained, since with each step he seemed to be rising ever closer to his father’s position in Cabinet.
I am myself. I am not my father. I am not the Senior Minister. I am not Mr Goh Chok Tong. I am myself and people have to take me for what I am and what I am able to do for them.
For a moment I thought those were rap lyrics from the Eminem hit ‘The Way I am’.
‘Cause I am whatever you say I am/ If I wasn’t then why would I say I am? In the paper, the news, everyday I am/ I don’t know that’s just the way I am
Touchy. OK we get it. Perhaps PM Lee knew the kind of heat one would suffer if any of his kids decided to follow in his footsteps, and wanted to spare them the tedium of constantly proving to detractors that they and their father are two separate individuals, by giving a homely answer any modern, generous parent would agree with.
LKY himself has been pressured into revealing what aspirations he has for Hsien Loong since the latter entered politics in 1984, often coldly distancing himself from any cosy father-son bonds whatsoever.This is what the elder Lee said in response to a Korean journalist in 1986
I would be more comfortable if Hsien Loong were not my son. I think I would feel freer and more comfortable in shaping his career path and his exposure.
Wonder how the son would feel with Daddy verbally disowning you in public. A year earlier, the National Press Club in Washington issued this stinger:
Q:In the United States, it appears to some that your son, Lee Hsien Loong, is being groomed as your heir apparent. Would you please comment on the apparent founding of a Lee dynasty and the effect that might have on democract in Singapore.
To which LKY responded that Hsien Loong ‘was no fool’, and ‘feels that he is a person unto himself and not an object to be manipulated by his father’. If the same question were uttered today, it’s likely someone will be hauled to court and forced to back up his statements.
Well even if LKY took a hands-off approach once PM Lee ventured into politics, no one can deny the natural tendency of fathers to shape their sons into their own mould. In 1956, LKY determined that his 4 year old son (Hsien Loong) ‘is not going to an English school’ and ‘will not be a model Englishman’. But even without the dastardly hand of a controlling father figure, young Hsien Loong has been thrust into the public figure spotlight for as long as his could remember. When he was 11, he was TOP BOY of his school. At 12, everyone knew about his JUDO award. When he was 16, the ST reported that the PM’s son was tight-rope walking. At 18, we hear about his becoming a President’s scholar and embarking on NS. Hsien Loong was the poster eldest son of PM in the eyes of every Singaporean, born in the year of the Dragon and destined to lead by example, every success story from his Masters and Book Prize, his meteoric rise in the military (white horse notwithstanding) to his fight with lymphoma has been documented with the fawning earnestness as how one celebrates a newly minted Duke, Prince or baby Jesus. It only seemed logical that circumstances would shape the man we know as our PM today, whatever his personal reasons for becoming one. He is his own man alright, but you can’t ignore the influence, and advantages conferred, intentional or otherwise, of being born to a very powerful father.