Tunku Abdul Rahman–Father of Malaysian Freedom

February 19, 2016

Tunku Abdul Rahman–Father of Malaysian Freedom

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan


EVERY February since 2010 we at Ideas hold an event to commemorate the birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj. He was born on February 8, 1903 and he would have been 113 this year.

We will be holding a special dinner to mark his birthday on February 20. This will also be a celebration of the sixth anniversary of  IDEAS.

This year our celebration is a bit different. We are lucky to have been chosen as the host for this year’s Asia Liberty Forum (ALF), an annual gathering of the freedom movement from across Asia to discuss challenges facing the region and to learn from one another how to most effectively advance free-market reforms.

The ALF will take place at Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur on Feb 19-20 and we will have the special dinner to celebrate Tunku’s birthday as the final session at this international conference. Tun Musa Hitam will be delivering the main speech.

I am proud that this year we are able to take the celebration of Tunku’s life and vision to this international platform. It is about time that those from outside Malaysia who share the desire to see more liberty and justice in this world get to hear about Tunku and his ideals for the country.

The Tunku’s championing of freedom is not restricted to our national borders. He had a vision for the region too, and that led him to push for the creation of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), which then morphed into ASEAN.

Writing in this newspaper on August 22 2007, the late Datuk Abdullah Ali, one of the pioneers of the Malaysian Foreign Service, said that the entire concept of ASA, as the precursor of ASEAN, “was founded, then developed to maturity, almost solely as a result of an idea that originated in the mind of Tunku.”

When ASA was mooted, this region was suffering from the communist insurgency. In Malaysia, the Tunku made it quite clear that his belief in liberty could not exist side by side with communism.

The world knew him as a consistent anti-communist leader, and this was recognised in the New York Times’ obituary for him published on December 7, 1990.

Today, perhaps not enough people appreciate why UMNO’s Second President was so strongly against communist authoritarianism. Malaysians of my generation did not get the chance to see what the communists did.

And those who visit Beijing or Shanghai today may very well come back thinking there’s nothing wrong with the leftist ideology.

Last weekend I visited Phnom Penh. Less than two hours away by flight from Kuala Lumpur, this is a city that felt the blunt force of an attempt to establish communist rule by the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Under the Khmer Rouge it was called the S-21, and functioned as the main prison and torture centre. This was a place that was once replete with suffering and deaths.

S-21 was a high school until the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. The communists changed the classrooms into torture chambers. The pictures displayed there now are very graphic.

People were detained and tortured to extract confessions, and many ended up giving false confessions in the hope that the torture would stop.

Pol Pot was a paranoid Prime Minister. He believed that it was better to act against an innocent person by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake.

He took action against anyone who showed signs of wanting to challenge him. At Tuol Sleng, Pol Pot instructed the killing of his own Deputy Prime Minister Von Veth and Kuy Thuon, chief of a northern state.

At Choeung Ek Killing Fields-pictures taken by Dr. Kamsiah Haider-February 7, 2016

The suffering caused by Pol Pot and his communist comrades was even more apparent at another memorial site, the Choeung Ek Killing Field. It took about half an hour to get there from Phnom Penh. I will never forget what I saw.

The Cambodian government has built a stupa to commemorate the site, filled with more than 5,000 human skulls found within the compound. It is estimated that close to 20,000 people were bludgeoned to death there because bullets were expensive.

The bodies were piled in rows of mass graves. There was even a tree where communist soldiers smashed the heads of babies, before throwing their bodies into a hole.

All this was done because the communist Khmer Rouge did not believe in dissent. To them, human lives were expendable.

They used to say that “to remove you is no loss, to keep you is no gain.” Such was the belief that led to massive suffering under an authoritarian regime.

When the Tunku was Prime Minister, the communists were not yet ruling Cambodia. But he knew the dangers authoritarianism can bring to us and he pre-empted it by engraving the values of freedom, liberty and justice in our Proclamation of Independence.

As we celebrate the Tunku’s birthday this month, let us remember him as the freedom champion that he was.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.Ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

14 thoughts on “Tunku Abdul Rahman–Father of Malaysian Freedom

  1. For our Malay friends, let me tell you that here is one true towering Malay, one who all the non Malays respected, and continue to respect, and continue to hope, that one not unlike him in whole, will bring us a country united for all.
    Not for as long as Mahathir is around and the UMNO under Najib is in power. UMNO is a party of the UMNO Malays, by the UMNO Malays and for the UMNO Malays. We must also put an end to race based political parties and take religion out of our politics. For that to happen, we need a leader with the courage to change the system. LaMoy (he abandoned Malaysia) and I (I am foolish enough to still stick around) I are not optimistic. Conrad, CLF, Orang Malaya, Tok Cik and others may be more hopeful.–Din Merican

  2. Better use the occasion to support Zaid Ibrahim call for Rally for Najib’s resignation on Mac 27. Zaid is deserving of Tunku’s legacy.
    Please don’t insult the Tunku’s legacy. Zaid has been a political grasshopper.Now he is a proxy for Mahathir.–Din Merican

  3. It is not communism that kills, rather those who abuse power under its disguse of fighting for liberty or justice, be it a free democratic system or otherwise.

    Tunku’s vision of liberty and justice(for all, particularly the Original UMNO) was based on shared( inclusiveness) responsibility, wealth ,peace and security with the people,regardless of race and religion, where Accountability, Competency, Governanc and Transparency(ACGT) should be the central role of any system, without which nothing would be able to sustain.

    His visionary spirit must be kept alive if Malaysia, or other countries want to survive Crisis and thrive.

  4. Another anniversary is also planned for this year. That of the current PM to celebrate his 1976 elevation in the government ranks to the chief thief and receipient of arab largesse. In the process, over the forty years, he has used all his animal instincts and base human traits to stay close to the loot and to finally lay waste the legacy of his illustrious father.

    No prizes for guessing which party will be celebrated more grandly keeping in mind the legions of ball-carriers, cronies and inveterate liars that, like mushrooms, have thrived on the dung that he liberally doles out to them.

  5. It does not matter who is in charge of Putrajaya, be it UMNO / BN, Harapan or an Alien from Planet X. Priority and preference must unabashedly be given to the majority race in a one-man-one-vote system. This is a no-brainer. Even Lim Guan Eng has to mollycoddle the minority Malays in Penang.

    What Malaysia can hope for now is not a political reincarnation of the Tunku for even he had to play the racial card if the survival of UMNO / Alliance was at stake, hence the booting out of LKY’s Singapore whose only crime was calling for a Malaysian Malaysia.

    What Malaysia should have, but hijacked away and killed off by those UMNOputras’ greed, is what was the original intention of the NEP and declared by Tun Razak himself, namely, color-blind eradication of poverty. Of course if this was actually carried out, then many UMNOputras will be out of the running for the initial chicken feed handouts which, in Mahathir’s hands for 22 years, turned into a torrent due to the booming economy.

    Membership in UMNO number in the millions. How much could trickle down to the non-UMNO Malays and the “Others”?

    It was ironic that Mahathir cried when he said he failed to uplift the Malays. He was partially wrong of course. He did uplift the Malays in UMNO so much so that they can now discard him altogether like a formerly rich uncle who has fallen into bad times. This, to him, is the unkindest cut of all.

  6. Tunku, my Tunku, color blind Father of Malaysia! A fair, just and visionary statesman who loved and cared for his people, not by the color of their skin but because they were his people. I remember how Mahathir hated you and how you expelled him from UMNO. He is vindictive and succeeded to undo and dismantle every thing you had built. If there were a God, if there were reincarnation, please come back to save Malaysia! We missed you.

  7. The Tunku was a prince by birth yet was a down to earth person, very accommodating, tolerant and accepting. Look at his friends, they are across the board from different races, religions and background. He makes friends easily and manage to smooth things over when there are disputes. Look at the composition of the first Cabinet, apart from the Malay Ministers the Tunku had people like Leong Yew Koh, Tan Cheng Lok, Sambanthan, Manikavasagam, T H Tan (Alliance Party Sec. Gen) Ong Yoke Lin and many others. These people each had stories and fond memories of the Tunku.

    Today UMNOb is a party of exclusive instead of inclusive. It exclude those that are not of the same line of thoughts I.e. how to make easy money. The old UMNO was working hard to raise the living standards of the rakyat and bumis in general while UMNOb works hard to line their own pocket.

    There is no one in UMNOb or opposition that comes close to the Tunku both in stature and standing.

  8. Some people are caught in a time warp and are still fighting the Cold War?

    There are Communists and there are Communists. Just like there are
    Christians and Christians (Catholics of the bloody Inquisition period in medieval Europe; tolerant Catholics today; pro-Israel USA evangelicals; pacifist Quakers; world-rejecting Amish etc). And Muslims and Muslims (mainstream Sunni, Shiite Muslims, Daesh-type clerico-fascists and terrorists, etc).

    “Communists” range from democratic ones who ruled Indian states relatively well such as Kerala and West Bengal, to Eurocommunists of the old Italian PCI who managed major Italian cities, to the pro-Soviet Stalinists of the French Communist Party, to non-aligned “market socialist” Yugoslavia under Tito. To extremist regimes such as China under Mao, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, North Korea under their dear leaders.

    Then there are pro “free market” regimes and ideologies such as libertarianism (the ideology of IDEAS) which influenced Chile under the fascist General Pinochet and his “Chicago Boys”, the UK under Thatcher, USA under Reagan etc.

    In the USA, we see curious libertarianism-influenced phenomena such as prisons run by private corporations (for profit !) that have swelled the size of the US prison population, private sector military “contractors” from the USA who participate in the wars in the Middle East and commit numerous atrocities against civilians. Half-crazed ideas from libertarianism such as privatization of prisons and privatization of US military operations, in other words.

    In 1Malaysia, we have privatization of water that results in
    brownish, metallic-tasting water coming out from our taps, forcing all of us to install water filters (pity those too poor to afford water filters). And privatization providing opportunities for ruling regime kleptocrats to enrich themselves.

  9. Some of you might not to like this but….

    It is time to get over ourselves.

    Octo has called for a grand alliance of men and elves…..er…I mean political Oppo parties to kick out the evil lord Sauron….damn it…I mean JibRos and for me at least this is the final shot at achieving something other than bitching about up stuff online or having grand rallies which seem to fall into predictable racial lines.

    The Opposition has failed because they were too damn unimaginative to offer anything but the same old bull crap repackaged with better spin. They cynically manipulated racial politics for their own gain while screaming about a national identity that nobody certainly not them had any idea how to cultivate except as something that was in opposition to UMNO/BN.

    Last year when some folks here were telling the Bugis Captain to stay on hoping that this would end the reign of UMNO, I thought that this was perhaps the dumbest thing I had ever heard. Yet this was one of the stratagems of the Opposition. So much for that tactic.

    Now all some folk seem to do is engage in schadenfreude when it comes to Octo never realizing that the middle class superiority, political apathy not to mention privileged urban lifestyle was something that happened under his watch with the rest of the culture of corruption that the majority of Malaysians seemed pragmatically comfortable voting in, while the rest of us dumb schmucks were toiling away on the fringes.

    It’s not right calling Zaid a grasshopper when I can name you a half a dozen former UMNO/BN lackeys now enjoying eminence in the ranks of DAP and PKR because they embraced the sordid internal politics of these political parties.

    The enemy of my enemy does not have to be your friend and you could always supply him with ammo while not joining in his fight……but eventually, you will have to join the fight.

  10. I will not join a fight where a thief is replaced by another, and I remain the pendatang, the infidel, and an outsider of the country I love, that I was born, that I steadfastly remained loyal to, and a citizen of. Give us a leader, may it be Nurul bte Annuar, or the Prince of Johor, then there is hope and a reason for all the pendatangs and the infidels to help the thieves.

  11. Razak, Mahathir and Musa Hitam were the scheming threesome who backstabbed the Tunku to begin with. Razak knew that, as a long serving DPM, he was unlikely to become PM as long as the popular Tunku was around as PM unless eased out or toppled. Mahathir never forgave Tunku for sacking him from UMNO. Musa Hitam had higher aspirations and he did become the DPM, when Mahathir became PM. What an irony that he has been chosen to give the main speech for an event commemorating Tunku’s birthday. Perhaps he is a changed man now. Having seen the unfolding of events from some point of his political journey, particularly now, he must be thinking Tunku is any time, 10 times better than any other PM Malaysia has seen.

    If only Hussein Onn had chosen Tengku Razaleigh as his DPM and not Mahathir, Malaysia would not be in a mess it is now with political and monetary corruption and power abuse.

    Zaid Ibrahim a political grasshopper? Partly yes – an idealist right man joining a wrong party at the wrong time. I think he even floated a party of his own and failed. It could be embarrassing to ask some (including me) how much of grass hopping was done before we settled for our spouse. Politics is an image of real life for some. I cannot think of any other Minister who resigned his post over fundamental policy differences with his Cabinet colleagues. He was also the man who, with the backing of Abdullah Badawi (then PM), initiated the move to extend apology to and compensate and restore the full pension and perks of ex-Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and his colleagues, who were mercilessly sacked by Mahathir all because they passed adverse judgments against him and his UMNO.
    Hawking eye,

    Maybe calling Zaid a political grasshopper is inappropriate. What about calling him a political opportunist. That is a polite way of describing your hero.

    With regard to Tun Hussein, I think he was the classic reluctant politician and the only man who Tun Razak could trust in UMNO after Tun Dr. Ismail died. When he took over in 1976, Tun Hussein wanted to appoint Tun Ghazali Shafie as his Deputy. But the then 3 Vice Presidents (Mahathir, Ghaffar and Ku Li) met him and told him that he should appoint one of them. Ku Li said that he was still young and could wait. So Tun Hussein chose Mahathir as his DPM over Ghaffar. Years later, our 3rd Prime Minister admitted to me that he regretted making that decision. Both he and Tunku quit UMNO when Mahathir formed UMNO Baru, following Justice Harun Hashim’s decision to declare UMNO illegal. –Din Merican

  12. “Give us a leader, may it be Nurul bte Annuar, or the Prince of Johor, then there is hope and a reason for all the pendatangs and the infidels to help the thieves.”

    Really ? Has either of them defined their expectations by promising to amend the Constitution or is the political bromides that you find appealing ?

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