Former Singapore president Ong Teng Cheong dies

  Agence France Presse
February 8. 2002

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FORMER president Ong Teng Cheong, Singapore's first elected head of state, died Friday (Feb 7) after a long struggle with ill health, local media reported.

Ong, 66, whose political career spanned 21 years, was a former deputy prime minister, member of parliament and cabinet minister. He resigned as deputy prime minister in 1993 to run in Singapore's first direct presidential election.

In July 1999, as his wife was dying of cancer, Ong announced he was not seeking a second term, leading to the election of current president S.R. Nathan, a former diplomat.

Ong himself had been diagnosed with lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system, in 1992 when he was deputy prime minister. He underwent treatment but the illness recurred in July 1998, leading to a new course of therapy.

He was said to be in good health when he renounced a second term.

Ong's fellow deputy prime minister in 1992, Lee Hsien Loong, was also diagnosed with cancer around the same time, producing a political shock to Singaporeans.

But Lee, 49, has since made a full recovery and is now being groomed to be the next prime minister after the incumbent premier, Goh Chok Tong, announced plans to step down in 2003 or 2004 after being in power since 1990.

There was no immediate official statement on Ong's death, but local media reported he died at 8:14 pm at his private residence after being discharged from the National University Hospital.

When he announced in 1999 that he was not seeking re-election, a government statement said that Ong, a former architect and town planner educated in Australia and Britain, felt "there is no compelling reason for him to stand again."

"He has achieved what he set out to do when he was elected to the office," it added.

Under the Singapore constitution, the president serves as head of state but also has veto powers over key government appointments and the usage of the wealthy Southeast Asian country's vast foreign reserves.