Retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan has come under fire for rebuking Lee Hsien Yang for getting involved in opposition politics since he has benefited from the establishment, in a recent Facebook post.
Lee Hsien Yang has been embroiled in a bitter feud with his elder brother, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over their late father’s last will for the past few years. In recent months, he disavowed support for the ruling party his brother leads and said that it is no longer the same party it was when his father was at its helm.
Then, just a few days before Nomination Day, Lee Hsien Yang announced that he had joined the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) as a member. Although he has been supporting the PSP by making public appearances, Mr Lee decided against contesting the election since he does not believe that Singapore needs another Lee in power.
Mr Lee has also been speaking directly to voters in videos and interviews, urging them to give their support to the PSP. In his final video recording on the campaign trail, Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to send a “wake up call” to the government and vote “fearlessly” for the opposition. He added: “No more blank checks. We must rescue the future of the country we love.”
Mr Bilahari Kausikan, a former Ambassador-at-large, went ballistic on social media after Mr Lee’s comments made the news and claimed that Mr Lee was attacking the establishment even though he benefited from “privilege” because he was “prevented from monetising” his family home.
The retired diplomat added that he cannot stand the alleged hypocrisy in Mr Lee saying there need not be another Lee in politics while he joined an opposition party himself. Asserting that Mr Lee was “trying to cause trouble without responsibility”, he said:
“I have two comments/ questions: first, you are a beneficiary of the ‘privilege’ you now eloquently attack. Why? Because you were prevented from monetising the property your brother sold you?
“Second, if you are really so upset, why faff around the margins, trying to cause trouble without responsibility? Your excuse for not standing for election, that there need not be another Lee in politics is hollow: what are you doing if it is not politics? Cowardly!”
While some netizens shared his distaste for Mr Lee Hsien Yang, others responding to Mr Bilahari’s post poked holes in arguments.
Daniel Yap, a communications professional and co-founder of the now-defunct news website The Middle Ground, pointed out that benefiting from the system has no bearing on whether one should desire reforms. Asserting that one does not need to be in politics to be concerned about political issues, Mr Yap wrote:
“First, being a beneficiary of a system has absolutely no bearing on whether you should desire to reform that system. I don’t know why you think everyone who benefits from a system should desire to preserve that system as-is, or not hold a view on how it should change.
“Second, why aren’t you in politics? Why am I not in politics? Are we therefore not allowed to be upset about political issues? Isn’t this the long-debunked “join politics” sophistry from GCT? Sure, I can wish he did join, or be disappointed that he didn’t, or fault him for being a tease, but I can’t deny his right to advocate.”
Former opposition candidate, Augustin Lee, added in a reply to Mr Yap’s comment: “benefited from the system therefore must be loyal” this smack (sic) of nepotism and blind loyalty.”
Another netizen, Steven Pang, expressed concern that the former ambassador resorted to personal attacks instead of debating the issues Mr Lee raised. Pointing out that one does not need to stand in an election to contribute to political discourse and that Mr Bilahari himself is an example of such a person, Mr Pang wrote:
“I fundamentally disagree that one needs to run for parliament in order to participate in politics. That’s absurd. Would you propose banning membership of political parties? You yourself have long espoused political views without running for election. It is sad that you are resorting to personal attacks on LHY rather than debating the issues raised.”
Facebook user James Lui highlighted Mr Lee’s comment that every citizen has a responsibility to take part in politics and asked Mr Bilahari to clarify how Mr Lee’s statements come off as hollow. He wrote:
“How is it hollow? It does prevent the entire scene looking like a case of dynastic politics. He has also covered the responsibility bit by saying that every citizen has the responsibility to take part in politics, not just standing for elections.
“As resident citizens, every one’s skin is in the game and will be affected whether government they chose came up with either good or bad policies, so there is nothing wrong with what he said.”
Mr Bilahari responded that Mr Lee’s reasoning is hollow “because it is utterly hypocritical”. He also agreed with another netizen who wrote: “it is hollow because he is already playing politics but without personal commitment and responsibilities by choosing not to stand as a candidate.”
Another Facebook user, Kenneth Tay, pointed out that the freedom to advocate on political issues is a hallmark of a healthy democracy. Fellow netizen Gleeful Lee called Mr Bilahari a hypocrite for rebuking Mr Lee and said that it is all the more poignant for Mr Lee to speak up since his brother is the head of Government:
Distinguished diplomat Tommy Koh even joined the fray and asked Mr Bilahari why he is so antagonistic towards Mr Lee:
While netizens remain divided on Mr Bilahari’s points against Mr Lee, the timing of his post has also come under scrutiny since the post was published on Cooling Off Day – the eve of polling day on which no campaigning is permitted.
Although Mr Bilahari said that he is not contravening the law since he is now retired and is a private citizen, one Singaporean was so concerned that the influential retiree may be swaying voters that he made a police report against the former ambassador over the matter.