Ong Teng Cheong


Ong Teng Cheong (b. 22 January 1936, Singapore - d. 8 February 2002, Singapore) was the first elected President and the fifth to serve as President of Singapore. He was sworn in on 1 September 1993. An architect by training, he was a Member of Parliament (MP), served as Minister of Communications and Labour, and held the post of Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). In 1990, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. He stepped down as the President of Singapore on 31 August 1999, several weeks after his wife's sudden demise from colon cancer.

Chinese High School.
1961 : Bachelor of Architecture, University of Adelaide, Australia.
1967 : Master of Civic Design, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.

1962 - 1964 : Worked as an architect in Australia.
1964 - 1965 : Worked as an architect in Singapore.
1967 - 1971 : Joined the Planning Department, Ministry of National Development and worked as a town planner. Soon seconded to the United Nations Development Programme (Special Fund) Assistance in Urban Renewal & Development Project. There, he assisted in formulating the long-range concept plan of Singapore's physical development.
1971 : Set up Ong & Ong Architects with his wife as principal partner.
1971 - 1975 : Practised as architect and town planner in his company.

Ong made his debut in politics in 1972. He was then elected as MP for Kim Keat constituency which marked the beginning of his 21 years in Parliament. Between 1975 and 1985, Ong held the Labour, Communications and Culture portfolios. He also served as Chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) from 1981 to 1993 and was Secretary-General of NTUC from 1983 to 1993. Between 1985 and 1993, Ong was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. He resigned as MP in 1993 to become Singapore's fifth President on 1 September 1993.

As Secretary-General of NTUC, Ong was well-liked by the common workers and was regarded as a man with genuine interest in their lives. His success in convincing workers to accept a 15 percentage point cut in their employers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions during the 1985 economic downturn was an example of his popularity. One of his greatest contributions to Singapore was pushing through the building of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which has transformed not only the way people travel but also land-use patterns in Singapore.

1972 : Elected PAP MP for Kim Keat, and returned successively in the 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988 general elections.
1975 : Appointed Senior Minister of State for Communications.
1978 : Appointed Communications Minister and Acting Culture Minister.
1980 : Appointed Communications and Labour Minister.
1981 : Elected Chairman of the PAP Central Executive Committee, and re-elected to this post in 1982, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 1992.
1983 : Appointed Minister without Portfolio. Elected as NTUC Secretary-General, and re-elected to this post in 1985, 1988 and 1991.
1985 : Appointed Chairman of the Singapore Labour Foundation.
1985 : Appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister in the Lee Kuan Yew Cabinet.
1990 : Appointed Deputy Prime Minister in the Goh Chok Tong Cabinet.
1991 : Elected as one of four MPs in Toa Payoh GRC.
1993 : Became first Elected President of Singapore after receiving 58.7% of the votes against his opponent, Accountant-General Chua Kim Yeow.

Ong was diagnosed with cancer of the lymphatic system in 1992, a year prior to his election into Presidency. He had developed low-grade lymphoma, an abnormal growth of cells in the lymphatic system. In spite of this condition, he started his term with zest and enthusiasm. He had a relapse in 1998 but persevered in working out a White Paper outlining the President's role in protecting the reserves. In 1999, just a month before his term was complete, his wife of 36 years passed away, after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. Three years later, Mr Ong himself departed at the age of 66 on 8 February 2002 in his Dalvey Estate home, leaving behind two sons. NTUC renamed the Singapore Institute of Labour Studies in honour of him. It is now known as the Ong Teng Cheong Institute of Labour Studies.

Ling Siew May (b. 1937, Shanghai - d. 30 July 1999, Singapore), a childhood sweetheart whom he married in 1963. She died from colon cancer soon after Ong announced in July 1999 that he would not continue another term in the presidency.
Sons: Tze Guan (b. 1967?) and Tze Boon (b. 1968?), both married
Grandson: Justin Ong Eu Jin (b. 1997?)
Brother: Ong Teck Joon, deceased
Sisters: Ong Sor Lian, Ong Beng Hong and Ong Teow Choo

Quotable quotes
"It is better to have a good government than to have a good president to check on a bad government".
Source: President won't seek re-election. (1999, July 17). The Business Times (Singapore), p. 2. 

Bonny Tan & Renuka M.

DPM Ong wins praise all round for his rapport with the people [Microfilm: NL 18505]. (1993, August 4). The Straits Times, p. 27.

Ex-President Ong dies [Microfilm: NL 23876]. (2002, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 1.

Leong W. K., & Long, S. (2002, February 9). Farewell, Mr Ong [Microfilm: NL 23876]. The Straits Times, Home, p. H6.

How I will do my job: President Ong [Microfilm: NL 18522]. (1993, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 1.

Powers of elected president come into effect today [Microfilm: NL 17593]. (1991, December 1). The Business Times (Singapore), p. 1.

President won't seek re-election [Microfilm: NL 20328]. (1999, July 17). The Business Times (Singapore), p. 2.

President's Office, Republic of Singapore. (1999). Former presidents: Ong Teng Cheong. Retrieved January 19, 2005, from

Further Reading
So long and thanks, Kim Keat. (1993, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 22.

The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Law and government>>Political process>>Leadership
Law and government>>Public administration>>Cabinet (Government Councils)
Ong, Teng Cheong, 1936-2002
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2008.