February 8, 2016
In Memorium: Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj
COMMENT: It is sad that Malaysians of the present generation no longer have any recollection of our First Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj from Kedah Darul Aman. Over the years, especially during the Mahathir Era (1981-2003), the names of our distinguished Prime Ministers–Tunku himself, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Hussein Onn–disappeared from our national consciousness. So I am glad that Terence Netto has written a thoughtful article on our First Prime Minister.
The Tunku embodied the qualities of Malaysian politicians who put Malaysia first and led by example. Yes, he was a Gentleman but he was more than that. He was to my mind a compassionate leader who was also a good judge of human character. That enabled him to choose a team of Cabinet colleagues like Tun Razak Hussein, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Tan Siew Sin, and Tun V.T. Sambanthan who shared his vision of a united Malaysia. Above all, The Tunku was the embodiment of authenticity.–Din Merican
by Terence Netto
Today is the 113th anniversary of the birth of Malaysia’s founding Prime Minister and statesman Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, a remembrance hard to keep in mind amid the Lunar New Year festival.
From all counts, the 2016 festivity is subdued because of the exactions of rising living costs and the plunging value of the ringgit.But the economic overhang is not as sapping as the clouds that shroud the political horizon which some say are the most worrisome in our country’s 59-year history.
The noxious fumes that continue to swirl over sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and the donation/investment of RM2.6 billion in the bank account of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, show no sign of abating one year after the controversy first began to poison the national well.
In times like these it is perhaps understandable that the mind harkens back to the ethos of a less contentious past and to the man, whose birth anniversary this day is, who embodied the old world charm and sagacity of his era.
More than ever marking the Tunku’s birth anniversary is something Malaysians must to, if only because the effect of the 25 years – he died on December 10, 1990 – since his passing has compressed and intensified the figure of the Tunku retained by memory.
Shades have ceased to count and accidents have fallen away: his life stands sharply for a few estimated and cherished things rather than nebulously for a swarm of possibilities.
The Tunku was a gentleman.It is difficult to say what the term may mean in the context of the political life where fair can be foul and foul can be fair in the fog of the blood sport of realpolitik.
“Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail,” was one definition from an American practitioner in the era before the demands of counterespionage made Henry Stimson’s stricture baloney.
Testimony of Derek Davies
Let’s allow the testimony of Derek Davies, an editor of the defunct Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), speak for what ‘gentleman’ may mean to a hard-boiled journalist in a long career of writing on politics in the region his newsweekly covered from the time of its founding in 1946.
Invited by FEER to reminisce on the occasion of the weekly’s 50th anniversary, Davies recalled an episode when his magazine carried a report the Tunku thought was at variance with the facts and had put the Malaysian prime minister unfairly in a bad light.
At the Tunku’s urging, Davies flew into Kuala Lumpur from Hong Kong where FEER was headquartered to see the Tunku. He waited in a room in Parliament while the Tunku was busy with business in the House.
Once done, the Tunku sauntered into the room where Davies was cooling his heels and after a brief exchange of each’s take on the matter, Davies said he saw that his publication was at fault, quickly tendering an apology which was received with aplomb.
No threats to sue, no demand for an apology in the next edition. Davies’ summation: “Truly,” he said in recollection to FEER on leaders he had encountered in a long career, “the Tunku was a prince among politicians.”
The Tunku was unpretentious and unsanctimonious as someone of royal lineage could be.A couple of months before the 1969 general election, he turned over prime ministerial reins to his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussein, to lead the Alliance campaign for the polls in May that year.
In the lead-up to the vote, he was the target of intense vilification by the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party ((PMIP) (subsequently called by their current shorthand PAS) in which the Tunku’s morals were attacked.
Parrying the attacks, the Tunku, then 63, joked with press: “I wish I were 20 years younger.”At Alor Star airport, after a campaign tour of his home state of Kedah, the a reporter told the Tunku that he was wearing an old shirt. “I like old things,” he said, and pointing to Puan Sharifah Rodziah seating a short distance away, he added, “You see my wife over there.”
Seen in the perspective of the quarter century that has passed since his death and the events that have taken place, it can be said his faults were negligible, his strengths considerable, and the stock of values his career highlighted is hollowed by absence.