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First S'pore mayor 'died in 2008'

New book reports death of ex-PAP minister Ong Eng Guan. -ST
Leong Weng Kam

Sat, Nov 24, 2012
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Singapore's first mayor and People's Action Party (PAP) founding member Ong Eng Guan, who disappeared from the public eye after being expelled from the party, died four years ago, says a new book.

According to the book on famous Hokkiens who lived here, the former national development minister died in 2008 at the age of 83. While it is not known what he died of, the report nevertheless ends years of speculation about Mr Ong's whereabouts, which had remained a mystery after he left politics in 1965.

Mr Ong is one of the 155 personalities featured in Prominent Figures Of The World Fujian Communities - The Singapore Chapter, which is written in Chinese and will be launched today.

The book was published by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan in conjunction with the three-day 7th World Fujian Convention, which is being held at Marina Bay Sands since yesterday.

Its editor, Mr Kua Bak Lim, 65, said he had difficulties confirming Mr Ong's death, as no obituary was published.

The accountant-turned-politician also never spoke to the media nor gave any oral history interviews to the National Archives after he gave up his Hong Lim seat in the legislative assembly in 1965 - leaving allegations about his supposed lust for power and his character flaws, as claimed in books and newspaper articles, unanswered.

Rumours of Mr Ong's death had surfaced several years ago, but his family members have repeatedly refused to confirm or deny it over the years.

"In the end, we asked a council member of the Hokkien Huay Kuan who knew one of Ong's three sons, his golf kaki, to get the confirmation," said Mr Kua.

The editor had also tried to check the death registry, but did not succeed as he did not have Mr Ong's personal particulars.

The council member, a lawyer who declined to be named, told The Straits Times on Wednesday that Mr Ong's son, Mr Ong Wei Min, had admitted to his father's death only after some prodding.

Several others who knew the Ong family also confirmed Mr Ong Eng Guan's death.

One of them, a doctor who also asked for anonymity out of respect for the family's wish not to make news of the death public, said she knew of it long after Mr Ong had died.

"The family members kept a very low profile," she added.

Mr Ong, who was a popular Hokkien speaker at rallies, was a well-known name in Singapore's modern history.

Born in Malacca, he was a student activist in his undergraduate days at the University of Melbourne before he returned to Singapore in the early 1950s and helped found the PAP in 1954. He contested successfully in the 1957 city council elections and was elected Singapore's first mayor.

When the PAP won 43 out of the 51 seats in the 1959 legislative assembly elections to form the government, Mr Ong became the national development minister in the Government's first Cabinet.

But the relationship between him and then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was strained from the start, as Mr Ong believed that he was more popular. He also held ambitions to be the party's leader and prime minister.

In July 1960, he was sacked from the party after criticising its leadership openly.

Mr Ong went on to form his own political party, the United People's Party, in June 1961, and won its only seat - Hong Lim - in the 1963 election.

But in June 1965, just two months before Singapore's separation from Malaysia, he resigned the seat, saying that the assembly served no purpose with its infrequent meetings, and disappeared from public view.


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