Lee Siew Choh

Singapore Infopedia


Lee Siew Choh (Dr) (b. 1 November 1917, Kuala Lumpur, Malaya–d. 18 July 2002, Singapore), a Cantonese, was a former Barisan Sosialis leader and the first non-constituency member of Parliament (NCMP).1 He was a vocal opposition leader who once gave a seven-and-a-half hours speech spanning two days, opposing the proposed merger with Malaya. He is also remembered for leading the Barisan members of Parliament (MPs) to boycott Singapore’s first parliamentary session in 1965.

Early life
After completing his studies at the Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur, in 1934, Lee came to Singapore to study medicine at the King Edward VII College of Medicine.2 Upon graduating in 1942, he joined the Kandang Kerbau Hospital as a doctor. A year later during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), Lee married his wife, a volunteer nurse whom he met at the hospital. Lee was then sent to work as a medical officer for two years at the Thai-Burmese border, where prisoners-of-war were building the Death Railway for the Japanese.3

In 1947, Lee established his own medical practice, International Dispensary, on Hill Street.4

Political career
Member of the People’s Action Party
An anticolonialist, Lee was persuaded by Goh Keng Swee to join the People’s Action Party (PAP) in 1958, and was elected the legislative assemblyman for Queenstown the following year. In November 1960, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the minister for home affairs.5

Opposition party leader
In July 1961, Lee was dismissed from the PAP following his abstention during a motion of confidence called by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.6 Together with the former PAP officials and legislative assemblymen, Lee formed the Barisan Sosialis party on 13 August 1961 and became its founding chairman.7 He is well-known for his record-breaking speech clocking almost seven-and-a-half hours over two days in 1961, in which he argued against the merger with Malaya.8

In 1963, Lee was detained for allegedly participating in the City Hall riot of 22 April that year, but later acquitted.9 In the general election held in September 1963, he lost the Rochor seat but the Barisan won 13 seats.10

After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965, Lee led the Barisan MPs to boycott the country’s first parliamentary session. In the following year, all the Barisan MPs resigned from Parliament. The Barisan boycotted the 1968 general election as a protest against the “undemocratic laws” under which elections were held.11

The Barisan Sosialis merged with the Workers’ Party in 1988, and Lee contested in that year’s general election as a Workers’ Party candidate in the Eunos Group Representation Constituency (GRC). He lost but became one of Singapore’s first two NCMPs after garnering the largest number of votes among the losing electoral candidates.12

Lee retired from politics in 1991 after serving as an NCMP for three years, and resigned from the Workers’ Party in 1993.13

After battling cancer for three years, Lee passed away on 18 July 2002 at the age of 84.14

1942: Joins Kandang Kerbau Hospital as a doctor.
1947: Sets up his own medical practice, International Dispensary, on Hill Street.
1958: Joins the PAP.
1959: Elected legislative assemblyman for Queenstown.
1 Nov 1960–20 Jul 1961: Parliamentary secretary to minister for home affairs.15
July 1961: Dismissed from the PAP.
13 Aug 1961: Forms Barisan Sosialis and becomes its founding chairman.16
1963: Barisan wins 13 out of 51 seats in the general election.
1965: Lee leads Barisan MPs to boycott Singapore’s first parliamentary session.
1966: All Barisan MPs resign from parliament.
1988: Barisan merges with the Workers’ Party.
1988: Lee takes part in the general election as the Workers’ Party candidate, and loses by 1,279 votes in Eunos GRC.17
1989–1991: Serves as NCMP for garnering the highest votes among the losing candidates in the 1988 general election.
1993: Resigns from the Workers’ Party.

Father: Lee Fook Chuen
Mother: Yim Kam
Wife: Kathleen Fam Yin Oi
Sons: Yew Kwong (d. 1992), Yew Chung, Yew Keong
Daughter: Yu Lian


Jenny Tien

1. K. Mulliner and Lian The-Mulliner, Historical Dictionary of Singapore (NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 88 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 MUL-[HIS]); Leong Weng Kam, “Conviction, to the End,” Straits Times, 19 July 2002, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Melanie Chew, Leaders of Singapore (Singapore: Resource Press, 1996), 122. (Call no. RSING 920.05957 CHE)
3. Leong Weng Kam, “The Good Doctor Carries On,” Straits Times, 17 June 2001, 37. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Leong, “Conviction, to the End.” 
5. “New Parliamentary Secretary,” Straits Times, 2 November 1960, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Ee Boon Lee, “Sack for 5 Parliamentary Secretaries Who Abstained in Confidence Vote,” Straits Times, 23 July 1961, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 124.
8. M. Nirmala, “Ex-Barisan Sosialis Leader Dies of Cancer,” Straits Times, 19 July 2002, 3 (From NewspaperSG); Parliament of Singapore, Merger (Singapore/Federation of Malaya (White Paper), vol. 15 of Debates: Official Report (Hansard), 20 November 1961, cols. 284–49; Parliament of Singapore, Merger (Singapore/Federation of Malaya (White Paper), vol. 15 of Debates: Official Report (Hansard), 21 November 1961, cols. 355–06.
9. Jackie Sam, “5 Barisan Leaders Arrested,” Straits Times, 23 April 1963, 1; Month’s Jail for Eight: Dr. Lee and Chan Acquitted,” Straits Times, 30 August 1963, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Leong, “Good Doctor Carries On.”
11. Joseph Yeo, “Feb. 17 Is Line-Up Day,” Straits Times, 10 February 1968, 1; Barisan Starts Its ‘Don’t Vote’ Campaign,” Straits Times, 15 February 1968, 16; Leong, “Good Doctor Carries On.”
12. Leong, “Good Doctor Carries On”; Ahmad Osman, “Francis Seow and Siew Choh Writing in to Accept Offer,” Straits Times, 12 September 1988, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Leong, “Good Doctor Carries On”; Zuraidah Ibrahim, “Lee Siew Choh Resigns from Workers’ Party,” Straits Times, 6 August 1993, 31. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Laurel Teo, “SM Lee, PM Goh Praise One-Time Political Foe,” Straits Times, 20 July 2002, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Leong, “Conviction, to the End.” 
16. Leong, “Conviction, to the End”; Chew, Leaders of Singapore, 124.
17. Leong, “Conviction, to the End.” 
18. Leong, “Conviction, to the End.” 

The information in this article is valid as at April 2019 and correct as far as we are able to 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.

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