Old PAP ties going strong in 'Makan Club'

Mr Ong Pang Boon (seated, second from left) and other MK Club members at the club's anniversary gathering on March 20. They include (seated, from right) Mr Ng Puak Khoon, Mr Chang Weng Fai, current president Madam Hoe Puay Choo, Mr Chan Chee Seng, an
Mr Ong Pang Boon (seated, second from left) and other MK Club members at the club's anniversary gathering on March 20. They include (seated, from right) Mr Ng Puak Khoon, Mr Chang Weng Fai, current president Madam Hoe Puay Choo, Mr Chan Chee Seng, and his wife, Madam Chan Chin Oi. ST PHOTO: LEONG WENG KAM

More than 30 party stalwarts and founding members attend social group's 35th anniversary lunch

They are in their late 70s and 80s, but a group of People's Action Party (PAP) stalwarts and founding members are keeping their comradeship alive in a social club formed more than three decades ago.

The MK Club, founded by old guard minister Ong Pang Boon, his late wife Chan Choy Siong, former senior parliamentary secretary Chan Chee Seng as well as former legislative assemblywoman Hoe Puay Choo and 40 other pioneer activists - mostly from the PAP's former Tanjong Pagar branch - marked its 35th year at the Centre of Activity and Recreation for Elders (Care) in Hong Lim Complex last week.

More than 30 of them attended a lunch celebration at Care's auditorium on March 20, held at the same time as the club's annual general meeting.

They also had an advance celebration of Mr Ong's 87th birthday, which is today, before the start of the meeting. Mr Ong, the last surviving member of the PAP's first Cabinet, was the party's founding organising secretary.

  • Ong Pang Boon turns 87

  • Former Cabinet minister Ong Pang Boon turns 87 today, but celebrated his birthday early with members of the MK Club at its anniversary and annual general meeting last Sunday.

    Mr Ong, the last surviving member of the People's Action Party's first Cabinet in 1959, blew out candles and cut a cake after more than 30 club members sang Happy Birthday to him in Mandarin at the Centre of Activity and Recreation for Elders in Hong Lim Complex.

    "I am not surprised by the celebration because they did it for me every year at the club's AGM in March, which is also the month of my birthday," he said.

    Mr Ong, a widower who has three grown-up children - a son and two daughters - said he has always eaten simply and avoided "rich" food. "I grew up eating simple food like potatoes, vegetables and peanuts and I still enjoy eating them today."

    MK Club's president, Madam Hoe Puay Choo, 87, who played a part in organising Mr Ong's birthday celebration, said: "He is my old friend and a good man and we all wish him many more good years ahead."


    Leong Weng Kam

He became home affairs minister when the party swept into power after its landslide victory in the 1959 general election, winning 43 of the 51 seats in the then Legislative Assembly.

He held several other ministerial portfolios later, including education, labour and environment, before retiring from politics in 1984.

He explained that MK Club had its origins in an informal group formed by party members at the then headquarters and Tanjong Pagar branch in Neil Road in 1956, two years after the PAP was formed.

"After we finished work every night at the party HQ, a group of us would go for supper at food stalls in Chinatown nearby and that was how the group was started," Mr Ong told The Straits Times.

Madam Hoe, 87, the club's president since 2008, added: "We were all young, in our early 20s, and enjoyed those makan sessions very much."

She left the PAP to join the now-defunct Barisan Sosialis, a left-wing group that broke away from the party, in 1961.

Madam Hoe said the club chose to remain low profile as it is a non-political group.

Members also included those who left to join the United People's Party set up by the late Mr Ong Eng Guan, a former PAP leader and minister.

Former club vice-president Chang Weng Fai, 77, said they decided to register the group officially as a club in 1981 as they wanted it to be more organised, keep proper accounts and spell out its programmes clearly.

At its height in the early 1990s, it had more than 100 members. Their activities included excursions and festive celebrations, and coming together to enjoy food - which now happens only once or twice a year.

Membership has dropped to around 50 today. "We meet more at members' funeral wakes than at our own meetings nowadays, sometimes a few times within the same year," said Mr Ong.

As for the club's name, former party activist and novelist Chong Fun Liam, 85, better known by his pen name Tian Liu, said in the 2009 book on the PAP, Men In White, that the group originally wanted to register itself as the Merdeka Club.

But the name, which meant independence in Malay, was not approved as it had political connotations.

So they simply used MK and called it the Makan Club whenever people asked what the initials stood for. After all, makan, or eating in Malay, was and still is one of its main activities, he explained.

Mr Chan, 85, the club's adviser along with Mr Ong, said he is glad the club is still around after all these years.

"I try to attend all its functions and activities though I am in a wheelchair... because it meant a lot to us as PAP founding members to still be connected today irrespective of our ideologies," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Old PAP ties going strong in 'Makan Club''. Print Edition | Subscribe