Mahathir is more than primus inter pares

22nd March 1998

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Razak, Haniff Omar (Then setting as Razak's special alde-de-camp-cum-bodyguard) and I stayed at single-storey Indonesian Guest House at Medan Merdeka (now a museum I am told)while the other delegates were put up at the Japanese built Hotel Indonesia nearby. I recall very clearly during breakfast Razak telling me Haniff did not sleep a wink throughout the night, guarding him in an anteroom. He was very impressed with Haniff's devotion. Razak knew that Haniff and I were classmates at our alma mater, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK), Razak chukled and said, Haniff didn't sleep and because of his pacing I could not sleep. He must have sensed something might happen and that made me also restless. Did you sleep well?"
I nodded and he said in Malay! "Dollah you ni tiada perasaan takut langsung -- no fear nor suspicion seems to have crossed your mind," I knew exactly what he meant. Although Suharto and the Indonesian Armed forces were in full control Sukarno was still president no matter how irrelevant he had become.
I suggested to Razak that he invited Adam to stay at Seri Taman (instead of at a hotel or at Istana Tetamu, the government guest house and now the Seri Negara Carcosa hotel) to carve a personal relationship and friendship. He agreed and asked me to speak to his social secretary, Zakaria Ahmad, to get ready the main guest room in the north wing of Seri Taman.

Then we discussed who should be Adam's aide-decamp during his 24 hours stay in Kuala Lumpur. He mentioned one officer. Although he was a good choice, I told him there was a better choice. "Who?" he demanded. I told him, "Colonel Ghazali Seth."

"Excellent." It was Ghazali who subsequently became Chief of the Armed Forces in the late seventies.

You should ask me why Ghazali? First, Ghazali was personally known to Razak and me. The colonel was my senior at the MCKK. But that aside, he had served as out military attache in Jakarta and would have known a bit more about Indonesian sensitives and sensibilities than someone who had had no connections with Indonesia at all. Ghazali turned out to be a super equerry.
Razak had instructed me once we reached KL that I was to rush to Seri Taman to inspect the room where Adam would spend the night. Zakaria had done a good job, of course, in consultation with Toh Puan Rahah. Still I found one thing missing: a hair brush. I told Zakaria we had to find one quickly because I believed Adam who, like Razak, combed his hair very carefully and neatly, would need a brush and because I knew Razak always carried one besides one or two good bone combs. We found a hair brush just as the motorcade arrived!

Nothing much would have mattered if there were no brush but we wanted no brush but we wanted nothing to be found wanting because no foreign minister had ever been a house guest at Seri Taman. All other state guests stayed in hotels or at Istana Tetamu.

The practice of who stays where is dictated by protocol and the guest country closeness to the host country and the esteem in which a particular guest is held.

Adam's visit to Kuala Lumpur, which was warmly received, signified the end of the three-year-old Indonesian Konfrontasi and the beginning of the Indonesian-Malaysian Reconciliation. Following the reconciliation, the Philippines resumed diplomatic relations.

I met Adam in 1957 when he came to cover our merdeka celebrations for the Antara News Agency of which he was chief. Although I had been a journalist barely four months without the benefit of an introductory or orientation course - all had been through trials and errors - I was invited by Aziz Ahmad (now Datuk) of Antara Book Store, a good friend of Adam, to join him and Samad Ismail (now Tan Sri) and a few other senior Malay journalists for "makan satay" at the then famous Jalan Campbell fast food (pasar malam) stalls where Majid Satay reigned and a Chinese Penang laksa corner was so popular the diners had to ritually compete for orders with a procession of drivers of VIPs and towkays buying takeaway satay and laksa in huge and many layered tiffin carriers.

I would argue that there were three decisive periods of change in our history since merdeka: the first was the enlargement of Malaya in 1963, the second the race riot in 1969 and, third, the currency devaluation last year.. Possibly more important than any of the three is what lies ahead and what would our new benchmark and standards be?

If your aspiration is to become prime minister, even though you are powerful you should have a strong stomach for a long hours of tedious consultation, parley, compromise, trade-offs to forge a consensus of major issues. However, if you disdain wealth and the well-heeled existence, journalism is a good option. If money is a determining factor in you life, better not become a journalist or even an editor. Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister of Singapore for 31 years (1959-1990) and who has never suffered fouls, gladly said he did not miss not being prime minister because he had outgrown it after three decades and one year.

Politics is a dangerous vocation; a peril-fraught career. Don't I know? On December 8, 1993, the new Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and I was so engrossed in our conversation he was late to move into the Deputy Prime Minister office at Jalan Dato' Onn for the first time. As we walked to his car, we were still thinking. Just before the car moved away he wound down the window, chuckling and said, "I have washed away all the rancour of Kamunting and sudah ampun dia - have forgiven him," and sped away and led by and escorted by a retinue of uniformed and plain-clothed police outriders and cars.

Neither Kamunting nor "Ghulam" was discussed during the 55-minute conversation. However, no Malaysian political biographer could wish for richer subject than Anwar Ibrahim. His life (he only turned 51 years on Aug. 10) spans the semi-literate rural Cherok Tokunin Bukit Mertajam, the Anglo-Malay environment and gentility of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar of the 1960's, the drama of student rebellions, brief detention, Malay-Islamist visionary, changed form, and finally power. Of the recent Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar is the most well-known and highly-regarded overseas. Anwar, to be fair, is humble enough to know that he has risen this far as a result of Mahathir's deliberate inculcation and patronage. In his many conversations with me, he continues to acknowledge his great political debt to Mahathir and has - to me at least - held on to his modesty.
Last week, Fauzah had a chance to browse through the political biographies of Nelson Mandela and Lee Kuan Yew, Fauzah confronted and admonished me as she never did before. I was surprised (and simultaneously pleased) that she has become interested in political biographies. She said: "Hear this Kok Lanas: Lee Kuan Yew carries his own bag while Nelson Mandela makes his own bed."

I looked hard at her and calmly said: "I would do the same if I were Kuan Yew or Nelson."

She left me muttering which sounded something like either "incorrigible!" or "incurable!"

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

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