Mahathir was Razak's choice

18 January 1998

. . . continued from page 1

Mentor and guardian to the Young Turks in Umno

Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir MohamadIn 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 undeterred.

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 Service (MCS).

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 civil service.

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 again."

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 responsibility.

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 political life.

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 about him.

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 )