Tunku was in the right place and at the right time

07 February 1999

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In 1969 the Tunku and the Alliance Party (made up of Umno, the Malaysia Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysia Indian Congress (MIC) suffered twin calamities by Malaysian- political standard: failure to recapture Kelantan and losing Penang to Dr. Lim Chong Eu's Gerakan Party joined the ruling coalition in early 1970s) and the traumatic May 1964 general election would have been a debacle had it not been for the Indonesian Confrontation.

Tunku and his loyalists had completely lost the respect of the nationalist wing of Umno, its "Young Turks" and the Islamists following the race riots. Indeed, without exaggeration, they had earned enormous enmity - of the Malays. The non-Malays, despite Tunku"pro-non Malay stance, also rejected Tunku by defeating the MCA state government in Penang and nearly wiping out clean the MCA parliamentary representation in Parliament. The MIC also suffered an electoral humiliation. Its president, VT. Sambanthan retained his seat in Sungai Siput by a small margin. Sungai Siput has been held by Datuk S. Samy Vellu since 1974.

All this resentment against Tunku, hastened Razak's takeover in the autumn of 1970. A saddened by what happened, left to become the first Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah which he confessed to me was a job he did not much enjoy when he returned home in 1975 he took up writing and recorded his version of events during his life time in a weekly column in the Star which was later compiled and published in book form.

Tunku's enduring legacy was his unceasing-championing of racial tolerance, live-and-let-live policy and his broad-mindedness about life. His liberal and modern attitude might not appeal to Islamists even to some nationalists but he was at least not a hypocrite. I admired him for that. His weakness was human and to his credit (May Allah-bless his soul) he never did try to hide anything except one secret: his latent second marriage while in office. It was a top secret because he did not want to hurt Sharifah Rodmah, a most gracious First Lady and besides it was deemed politically very unwise to have it made known to the people. Both Tunku and Rodziah were good cooks.

On balance Tunku left many enormous virtues which should dim his numerous flaws. His many flaws provided his detractors with enough ammunitions with which to shoot him down which in turn altered the course of our history. In the present, political circumstances and setting racial harmony, social cohesion of our people and national solidarity must be maintained at all costs. A tougher line, if necessary, must be taken to preserve harmony and peace through less politicking. I am pleased that we remain politically stable and socially cohesive; the people are well fed, the streets are safe and more importantly there is not even a hint of racial tension to date not withstanding reformasi, political agitation by the opposition, NGOs and the propaganda in the Internet

Our Founding Father, whatever his vices were, was talented, gifted and intuitive. But above all he was in the right place and at the right time in our history. It is not hard to know Tunku because most of his life was lived in public. As far as I know, through reading and talking with him in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and during a long, London-Kuala Lumpur flight and with his contemporaries, especially Razak, and occasionally joining him at parties, the public and private man were never in conflict.

In Tunku, there was simply no inherent contradiction of character of the kind that some of our past, and present leaders might be caught in.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )