Interest in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s second son, Li Hongyi, has always been been high – especially after he delivered a eulogy at his grandfather, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral in 2015.
Hongyi is in the news this week after his paternal cousin, Li Shengwu, revealed that he is removing Hongyi from his Facebook friends list.
Shengwu and Hongyi were once described as “very close” but cracks in their relationship surfaced in 2017 — the year that the Lee family feud spilled into the public domain and the year that the Government initiated legal action against Shengwu over a private Facebook post that had been leaked by one of his Facebook friends.
Besides 32-year-old Hongyi’s rocky relationship with Shengwu, most Singaporeans are probably most interested in whether he will join politics like his father and grandfather.
In 2017, Hongyi’s paternal uncle and aunt, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, accused PM Lee of grooming Hongyi for politics. Hongyi responded to the allegations and claimed that he really had no interest in politics.
Shengwu, however, pointed out that Hongyi’s comments on a potential entry into Singapore politics were “vague”. He told the press: “He only said he has no interest in politics, but my uncle Lee Hsien Loong also once said he wasn’t interested in politics when he was in his 20s. These words can easily be taken back.”
Speculation is also rife that certain ruling party members have been appointed to mentor Hongyi as a potential elections candidate. Respected international publication, the Nikkei Asian Review, has said that Heng Swee Keat is expected to mentor Li Hongyi to be Singapore’s potential fifth-generation Prime Minister, just like how second-gen PM Goh Chok Tong mentored Lee Hsien Loong.
While Hongyi’s potential entry into politics and the rift between the Lee cousins are hot topics that many may be familiar with, here are five facts you may not have known about the PM’s son:
1. He received a Government scholarship to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Hongyi received a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship to study economics at MIT – a renowned private research university in the United States. Hongyi earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics as well as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at MIT in 2011.
The PSC Scholarship is the premier government scholarship, awarded to those who have chosen a career in the Public Service.
The Raffles JC alumnus also won the Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science (LKY-M&S) in 2006 – an award that is given to select secondary, pre-university and polytechnic students who promote excellence in Mathematics and Science. The LKY-M&S is funded by private donations made by Hongyi’s grandfather, Lee Kuan Yew.
2. He discouraged his younger brother from taking a scholarship – Although he took up a scholarship, Hongyi dissuaded his younger brother Li Haoyi from accepting a scholarship.
Lee Kuan Yew revealed that Hongyi wrote a letter to Haoyi, who had just scored a 43 out of 45 in his International Baccalaureate exams, and advised him not to take a scholarship. Speaking at a dialogue in 2008, Mr Lee recounted: “He has written to his brother who has just got his Baccalaureate results, and says, ‘Don’t take a scholarship’.”
3. He was formally charged and reprimanded by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) while he served his National Service (NS) – While he was serving his NS in 2007, Hongyi was formally charged and reprimanded by the SAF for not following proper procedures in e-mailing a letter of complaint to many other servicemen.
Hongyi had written a letter of complaint about an officer from his unit and emailed the letter to the Defence Minister and senior SAF officers, among others, and breached the proper protocol to raise complaints.
His action contravened the Ministry of Defence’s General Orders since his letter was sent to servicemen who were neither directly under his command nor in an official capacity where they could deal with the matters contained in his letter of complaint.
Hongyi was formally charged and administered a reprimand after a summary trial.
4. He runs his own unit within Singapore’s Government Technology Agency (GovTech), with its own branding, website and style – Hongyi has been employed by GovTech for over six years now. He started out as a consultant and was subsequently promoted to the position of Deputy Director. He now directs his own unit at the heart of GovTech that he founded, called Open Government Products.
While Hongyi’s unit shares GovTech’s resources, manpower and ethos, it has its own website and branding. Hongyi’s team also functions very differently compared to other GovTech officers and has its own unique work culture.
Unlike typical GovTech staff, Hongyi’s team members are also not required to produce lengthy reports or presentations. Every January, team members also pause all non-urgent work and participate in a hackathon.
5. He chose and edited Lee Kuan Yew’s portrait for his wake – In 2015, Hongyi’s mother, Ho Ching – CEO of Singapore sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, revealed that Hongyi personally chose and edited Lee Kuan Yew’s portrait for his wake.
Mdm Ho revealed that her son “wanted to make sure that those who came to pay their respects to his ‘yeye’ have the best experience possible” and thought that this was the “least he could do after so many had queued for hours, in the sun and through the night.”
She recounted: “He chose the photo for the big portrait on Friday night and edited it. He thought the photo reflected the yeye that he knew. The organising team ran around through the night to produce the portrait, and set it up by Saturday afternoon.
“Hong is also especially grateful to a young SAF officer who alerted him that an important display had been inadvertently put aside when the team set up the portrait.
“Hong went to take a look, and discovered it was the Proclamation of Independence signed by his yeye, no less. He quickly rustled up some support staff to put the Proclamation beneath the portrait, to complete the presentation for visitors.”