18 January 1998
. . . continued from page 1
In October 1963, Razak asked me to be his political
secretary. I rashly declined the offer because I was happy being a "free bird"
and with what I was doing. I also honestly felt I was unqualified for the job. I
recommended another name who he knew personally. He said irritably: "Terlampau
kekampongan - a country bumpkin." Protesting, I told him that "Mobutu"
(not his real name) was a good man, conservative, conformist and safe. Razak remained
The irony is that "Mobutu" became one of my worst enemies. He, of course,
never knew that I had done him several crucial "latent" favours, one or
two even before this particular encounter with Razak.
There were all kinds of reasons why I declined his invitation. I am detailing here
some of them which are of general interest. I was and is shambolic in my work methods.
You need to be clever to work for a "superstar" like Razak, and not only
that, you need to be cleverer, and in the right way, especially in dealing with the
largely British-trained Wogs (Western Oriented Gentlemen) who ran the Malaysian Civil
To succeed, I needed not only to observe, but to do so scrupulously, the huge sense
of hierarchy, of organization, which pervades everything in the government and the
Razak finally said: "Look Dollah, this is an important and influential job.
You might not have a consolidated qualification but I know you certainly know how
to write. You are a shrewd observer and interpreter of events. I am not buttering
you. I find you are intelligent. This is an opportunity knocking which may not happen
He said he needed some one he could trust implicitly to give him the information
as it was. He also wanted me to be his devil's advocate.
I told what happened to Aziz, about my declining Razak's offer and he, aptly said,
I was a fool even to have second thoughts.
I became Razak's political aide (and later his deputy minister) for better or worse
from that October until he died on Jan 14, 1976. Early in the service what I feared
happened: a clash over form rather than substance between the Chief Secretary to
the Government, Tan Sri Jamil Rais, and the new political secretary. Jamil's obsession,
as it seemed to me and progressive young civil servants like Ishak Tadin now Tan
Sri, with hierarchy and methodology, his morbid subordination of content to style,
was a nightmare for young officers and young politicians alike.
He resented the manner certain decisions were taken rather than the content of those
decisions. He complained to Razak. I immediately asked Razak to relieve me of my
I must not try to represent myself as a skilful political secretary but my clash
with Jamil became an instant legend and I had made an impact. Ishak Tadin (formerly
the auditor-general), then working in the Ministry of Rural Development, was one
of the several politically alert young MCS officers who understood and recognized
that certain projects and policies must be implemented quickly, scrupulously and
efficiently to maximize political gains, and to endear the government, and Razak,
to the rural population.
A good political secretary or a spin doctor should always be more concerned with
the results than the means. Nobody does this better than a good political aide who
is discerning, and engages, determined and with foresight. Razak endorsed what I
did. Jamil learned something new about the nature and culture of politics and he
became less hidebound.
I, too, learned to whom letters should be copied and to whom they should not! Jamil
and I later made up when we realized that we both had a legitimate point to protect
each other's turf.
You would ask why Razak did not send me to Sabah? He did, but only after Malaysia
was formed. I was to play a crucial role first in Tun Mustapha becoming the Chief
Minister of Sabah in 1967 (he was before that Yang di-Pertua Negeri), then, in the
formation of Berjaya and Tun Mustapha's downfall.
Have you read Bill Campbell' s book, Harris of Sabah? The Sabah saga and sideshows
would be gripping reading. Stay tuned.
Though I did not achieve high office because of Razak's sudden death and because
I lost my seat in Parliament like all Kelantan Umno candidates in 1990, I had my
share of power and vices but dullness is not among them.
One thing has to be corrected. Razak's private life which was intimate and informal
was different from his distant public persona. He was a conscientious parent, loved
and respected by his wife and adored by his children. He enjoyed talking about his
past among close friends and aides. Razak did not believe one or two mistakes a friend
made (but no compromise on disloyalty) should cast a shadow over the rest of his
His strength was derived from the knowledge that in many "sensitive cases"
only a small number of people knew the facts and the others and the people did not.
He generally discounted reports which were politically motivated, perceived as biased
or prompting the agenda of a certain preferred individual. Razak would always give
the benefit of the doubt in favour of a friend. Razak was a godsend patron to the
young Umno cadres in the sixties and seventies.
He exercised great influence over the "Young Turks". He encouraged their
independent thought, scholarship, even brinkmanship, and protected them. He was upset
when he failed to protect Mahathir in 1969 but he made quick amends when he became
Umno president in 1970.
Razak was both a mentor and guardian to the "Young Turks", several of whom
he absorbed into his cabinet and administration in 1974. The best known was Mahathir.
Mahathir has neither misplaced Razak's confidence nor proven Razak's prediction wrong
There are still many Razak "loyalists" (or those who describe themselves
as such) alive today. Before I was detained I had long talks with many close friends
and associates, one of whom was the then Datuk Hamzah Abu Samah, Minister of Commerce
and Industry and a brother-in-law of Razak.
I can never forget what he told me: "They would not dare touch you when Abang
Jak was alive. I once asked him what made him trust you so much. He told me: 'I will
trust Dollah with my life. His personal loyalty to me is unsurpassed."'
(Datuk Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United Nations.)
(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )