Former leftist politician Wong Soon Fong, who helped set up the opposition Barisan Sosialis in 1961, died of heart failure at the age of 81 on Tuesday at his home in the southern Thai village of Bang Lang.
His friend and long-time comrade, Mr Chan Sun Wing, 82, told The Straits Times in a telephone interview from Hat Yai yesterday that Mr Wong went to a hospital in Yala province complaining of giddiness following a fall at home earlier on Tuesday.
"I was told that he went home, against the doctor's advice to stay in hospital for further observation," said Mr Chan, who lives in self-imposed exile in southern Thailand, as did Mr Wong.
"I am shocked by his sudden death because he was generally in good health and working on a memorial museum to honour the late Malayan Communist Party (MCP) leader Chin Peng."
Mr Wong and Mr Chan were among the 13 People's Action Party (PAP) legislative assemblymen who broke away to form Barisan Sosialis over differences in political ideology and the question of a merger with Malaysia.
A farmer's son, Mr Wong grew up in rural Toa Payoh and joined the PAP in 1956.
He was elected city councillor for Toa Payoh in 1957. He became a legislative assemblyman for the ward after the 1959 general election, when the PAP swept into power in a landslide victory. It won 43 of the 51 assembly seats.
Mr Wong and Mr Chan were also among 13 Barisan candidates who won seats in the 1963 general election, when the PAP retained power and took 37 of the 51 seats.
But the two men fled to Indonesia after the election to escape arrest during the Operation Pechah security swoop against leftists. They later joined the MCP as armed guerillas operating along the Thai-Malaysian border until 1989, when they moved to MCP's "peace villages" set up in the area.
In 2007, Mr Wong published a book titled Memoirs Of A Former Singapore Legislator On The Run. In it, he recounted his political life and his years in exile as an armed guerilla. He ran a tourist and hospitality agency in southern Thailand until his death on Tuesday.
Mr Wong's role in the PAP was noted in Men In White, the 2009 book on the party published by Straits Times Press. He was also interviewed by film-maker Tan Pin Pin for her documentary, To Singapore, With Love, which featured Singapore political exiles.
Many of his friends here were surprised to hear about his death. Said former legislative assemblyman Ong Chang Sam, 78: "He went to Johor Baru often to meet us, especially during the Chinese New Year holidays, and he was always in good spirits."
Mr Wong's only daughter and his former wife, who live in Singapore, are expected in Yala today. He will be cremated on Sunday.