SINGAPORE: Former Barisan Socialis Member of Parliament for Bukit Timah, Mr Lee Tee Tong, has passed away at the age of 92. The ex-politician, who was once detained for 18 years under the Internal Security Act (ISA), succumbed to pneumonia at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Monday morning (18 Dec), according to his wife, Huang Liang Qin.
Mr Lee was born in 1931 in Wenchang, Hainan. Having settled in Singapore with his impoverished family at the age of eight, he entered the workforce at 16, undertaking various roles such as construction worker, power saw operator, Westerner-serving employee, and baker.
He later held significant positions, such as the Paid Secretary of the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union and a Central Committee Member of the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU).
Mr Lee joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) when it was a left-wing party but later grew disillusioned with what he saw as the party’s deviation from socialist principles. Despite this, he supported the party in the 1959 general election.
Facing expulsion from the PAP allegedly due to non-renewal of membership, Mr Lee and other left-wing members established the Barisan Sosialis in 1961.
During the ensuing tumultuous period of arrests and political upheaval, which saw the arrests of more than 130 opposition leaders, including the entire central executive committee of the Barisan Sosialis, Mr Lee was among those who found themselves compelled to lead the party into the general election on 21 September 1963.
Mr Lee contested in Bukit Timah, the constituency previously secured by Mr Lim Chin Siong, who had been arrested during Operation Coldstore. At 32, Mr Lee emerged victorious with a 52.39 per cent vote share in a three-cornered fight against Chor Yeok Eng from the People’s Action Party and Ong Tiong Kuan from the United People’s Party (UPP).
However, even before he was sworn in, he was arrested on 8 October during “Operation Pecah.” Mr Lee tendered his resignation from his seat three years later, on 12 November 1966, while still in detention.
Mr Lee endured 18 years of detention under the Internal Security Act, with the Ministry of Home Affairs transferring him to Pulau Ubin in 1980. He was finally released and allowed to return to Singapore mainland in June 1981.
Mr Lee pursued work as an electrician after returning to the mainland before retiring in his fifties.
His beloved wife, Mdm Huang, emphasized Mr Lee’s unwavering commitment to his political ideals, describing him as someone who never gave up on his beliefs. She told a reporter: “Lee Tee Tong has never given up on his political beliefs all these years.” Friends also lauded Mr Lee’s integrity, calling him “upright and straightforward.”
In a heartfelt tribute on Tuesday (19 Dec), civil society group Function 8 member Chan Wai Han recalled the irony of Mr Lee’s victory in the 1963 election, as he was unable to assume his rightful elected place due to being detained. She said, “Mr Lee Tee Tong was incarcerated under the Internal Security Act and detained without trial for a total of 18 years and at the prime of his life!”
Asserting that Mr Lee’s legacy will continue, Ms Chan added: “Mr Lee Tee Tong will live on in the hearts of those who fought the neo-colonialists alongside him and for the betterment of the lives of his fellow men.”
Mr Lee’s wake is held at Block 157, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh. His funeral is scheduled for Friday (22 Dec), with cremation at Mandai Crematorium Hall 1 at 11:25 AM.