Former SDP chairman Ling How Doong, who was Bukit Gombak MP, dies at age 85

Mr Ling How Doong at a Singapore Democratic Party election rally in 2006. He was a one-term MP for Bukit Gombak, holding the seat from 1991 to 1997.
Mr Ling How Doong at a Singapore Democratic Party election rally in 2006. He was a one-term MP for Bukit Gombak, holding the seat from 1991 to 1997.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - To the public, he was a strong personality in opposition politics who had unseated the first woman Cabinet minister in an electoral upset. He was censured for swearing in Parliament, and later became embroiled in a defamation suit.

But former Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Ling How Doong, who died at the age of 85 on Friday (April 30), had a much softer side in private.

Mr Philip Ling, 54, the second of his three sons, said his father doted on his grandchildren and enjoyed cooking and spending time with family in his later years.

A man of few words when he was around loved ones, the late Mr Ling never brought the hurly burly of his political career back home.

“We didn’t even know he entered politics until we read it in the newspapers,” his son told The Straits Times on Saturday at Mr Ling’s  funeral wake at the Singapore Casket in Lavender Street.

A practising lawyer who was bilingual, Mr Ling became SDP’s chairman in 1984 and lost his first election in Chong Boon that same year. He then contested in Bukit Gombak in 1988, crossing swords with People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate, Dr Seet Ai Mee.

The pair would meet again during the next general election in 1991, and it was then that Mr Ling rose to prominence. He beat Dr Seet, who was acting minister for community development, by 654 votes and was elected alongside then-SDP chief Chiam See Tong and Mr Cheo Chai Chen in  the party’s best electoral performance to date.

Then came a falling out between Mr Chiam and current SDP chief, Dr Chee Soon Juan, which led to Mr Ling becoming SDP’s parliamentary leader in 1994 and Mr Chiam quitting the SDP ahead of the 1997 election to lead the Singapore People’s Party (SPP).

After just one term as an MP, Mr Ling lost his seat in the 1997 polls.

His opponent, PAP’s Ang Mong Seng, won 65.14 per cent of the vote in a three-cornered fight with Mr Ling and an SPP candidate.

Mr Ling contested the elections again in 2001 and 2006, losing both times. He stepped down as SDP chairman in 2007.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Dr Chee said Mr Ling was a tireless defender of workers’ rights and advocate for the protection of the needy and vulnerable.

“On this May Day weekend, it is befitting that we remember a Singaporean who loved his country and gave much to his fellow citizens by standing up for them at a time when such voices were rare.”

Dr Chee added that Mr Ling had retired from law several years ago and was inactive in politics by 2015.

Mr Ling’s son, Philip, said his father shunned the limelight after he retired.

“He lived a very simple life,” the younger man said, adding that his father continued to live in his flat in Bukit Merah after his political and legal career was over.

Mr Ling later found out that he had a chronic lung disease and he became gaunt as he had trouble swallowing. He was admitted to hospital on Wednesday for surgery to insert a feeding tube into his abdomen but contracted pneumonia and died.

“We didn’t expect it. It was very sudden, the escalation of his condition,” said Mr Ling’s youngest son, Joseph, 51. He said was proud his father had stood up for his values.

“From the conversations I had with him, I knew it was tough being an MP, all the more an opposition MP. He did a lot but was often not appreciated. Any time something went wrong, it is always in the news. It was a thankless task.”

Mr Ling, a Christian, leaves behind his wife, Madam Toh Siew Ing, 84, his sons and four grandchildren. He will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium on Sunday.