11th January 1998
For a quarter of a century Tun Razak played a secondary role to Tunku Abdul Rahman
Putra. He was Tunku's loyal deputy, an advocate and an understudy but never the lead.
He lacked the charisma and eloquence of Sukarno, Tunku's humour and wicked charm
and Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's outspokenness to dominate the public. But he
had one attribute which Sukarno and Tunku lacked: the ability to manage, for Razak
was a consummate and remarkable administrator-politician.
He ran his administration with style and accomplishment, was simultaneously adored
and feared by the civil servants but immensely loved by the kampung folks.
Razak was a composed and reserved man. He lacked flair with words, but he was a leader
of urbane charm and he was kind-hearted. His demeanour and style were akin to that
of Zhou Enlai, Thanat Khoman and Suharto, distinctively well-mannered and unimperious.
Razak, though a hereditary Datuk, lived with increasing simplicity as he aged. As
a young man he lived a full jolly life as any man of his status and position did.
There was no contradiction - aristocratic and yet sympathetic to the disadvantaged
of all races.
The second Prime Minister, though not intellectually daring, was innovative, dedicating
and devoting his short life first to the independence movement and then to achieving
what he thought the people desired and deserved through social reengineering. In
many ways Razak had a deeper instinctive understanding of bumiputra ideals and aspirations
than the Tunku.
He carefully rebuilt the nation's shattered dream following the vicious race riots
in May 1969. He was astute and strong enough by 1974 to entrench "the politics
of inclusion" through the National Front.
I must record here that it was achieved not without less than moderate opposition
from the conservative elements in Umno and Usno in Sabah. However, once Razak murmured
something or other, thus confirming the views of his advisers, the opposition melted,
each rushing out competing who would be the first to shake Razak's hand. No credible
force in the nation was excluded from the National Front.
Razak, though lacking Tunku's personal warmth, however, possessed greater personal
warmth than Tun Hussein Onn, the third Prime Minister. Razak, like the Tunku, nurtured
friendships going back to his school days; he maintained a network of private friends
outside the political circles and civil service surroundings.
Tunku and Razak in this respect were not unlike Mahathir who seems to be in touch
with his medical school classmates.
All the four prime ministers are different to an extraordinary degree in many ways
but each is aware of his strength and weakness something which I like to delve into
in the future. Tunku, Razak and Hussein smoked while Mahathir, not only does not
smoke, prohibits people from smoking in his office and residence. Of the three smokers,
Razak was all the more noticeable by smoking with a cigarette holder.
The British-run Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) was 28 years old when Razak arrived
there in 1933 to join his father's alma mater. I was not yet out into the world.
I only came out on the 4th of July four years later, the year Razak passed his junior
Cambridge (form four) examination. I became a student 11 years later in 1948, nine
years after Razak had left the school.
Razak loved his time at the Malay College and reminisced about it all the time. He
cited the MCKK connection as the main reason why he chose me as his political aide.
He stressed that the training which we both went through, endured and enjoyed at
our alma mater should make me a leader of men! He said: "Awak seperti kawan,
budak College (You are like me, a collegian). I know I can absolutely rely on your
esprit de corp and loyalty ... and in politics both qualities are scarce and absolutely
Razak's memories (he had a long memory) of his school, Raffles College (in Singapore)
and London days were as clear in the sixties as when he left them in the forties
and fifties respectively. They were good times where he made many friends like Tengku
Jaffar (the Yang diPertuan Agong), the present Sultan of Selangor (who helped smoothen
and speed up the negotiations which led to Kuala Lumpur being a federal territory),
the late Sultan Sir Omar Ali Saifuddin of Brunei (despite their good personal relationship,
he rejected Malaysia at the last moment) and the late Datuk Seri Hussein Nordin a
former Umno secretarygeneral and a long-time chairman of Utusan Melayu and Tabung
Haji among others at the MCKK, and Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, Maurice Baker, Goh
Keng Swee and Ungku Abdul Aziz and many other notables at Raffles CoUege.
In London, Razak met up again with several of his Raffles College mates, adding Tunku
Abdul Rahman and Des Alwi to the lon list. Des Alwi is Sutan Sharir's adopted son.
Sharir was Indonesia's first prime minister. Des Alwi lived in exile in Malaysia
during Sukarno's years and returned to Indonesia only after Confrontation was over.
Des Alwi played a crucial role in the Malaysian-Indonesian reconciliation. The last
time I saw Des Alwi was last July when he attended my eldest son's wedding in Kuala
Fred Arulanandon, a former Victoria Institution school teacher-turned lawyer whom
Razak later made a high court judge (against much opposition) and Datuk Paduka Saleha
Ali (Mahathir's sister-inlaw) and a one-time member of the Selangor State Council
during the colonial days were among Razak's many other friends in London.