Razak, the soul of the Kampung Malay

9 March 1998

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Razak was unquestionably loved by all Malaysians, the rural people in particular. They supported him, and he unfailingly delivered.

Razak's act (in all roles) is hard to follow. His biographers must do great justice to him. They must persevere and, in the end, I hope produce a readable book which will not only be read in Malaysia but overseas, at least in the Asean region.

The life and death of Razak, so young, is not only an engrossing story, but it will help explain many things which remain unexplained and why the Malay reconciliation (between Umno and Pas) collapsed and the Malay divide revived.

The moral of the story is: do not procrastinate. The decision time is running out. Assessments of Razak may change as the emphasis of time changes and new actors come on the stage. Many leading players of the Razak period have died; those remaining may not be around for too long.

Razak and Tunku needed each other. Razak recognized that the Cambridge-educated prince would give him the advantage of age and experience he lacked and Tunku wanted Razak to provide him the brains and the vitality of youth and an understudy who would not upstage him.

Razak provided that. For two decades (1951-1970) and not a quarter of a century, as I said sometimes ago, Razak played a secondary role to Tunku. He was Tunku's loyal deputy, an advocate and an understudy but never the lead except for two brief periods and each with the "old man's" blessing The first occasion was when Razak became prime minister for six months in 1959 when Tunku took time off to lead the Alliance in the country's first General Election and the second time, Razak was made the director of operations during the Emergency (May 13, 1969 to Sept 22, 1970).

Throughout Razak's life he rarely had to fight for anything; everything was given to him on a silver platter because he did not simply emerge from nowhere to become prime minister by a kind of miracle. Razak was in every respect, a product of the Malay political system, just like Tunku was. He was made Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar (Najib is the current holder of the title) of Pahang, one of the four hereditary major chiefs of Pahang in 1950, married Rahah Noah in Johor Baru
in 1952 and made a Tun aged 37 in 1959.

In Mahathir's Malaysia there exists a new set of traditions, a new ethos and challenge. Despite that Razak, whom Mahathir adored, shared the same political goal.

As Razak's persona blurs and vanishes Mahathir's moral and political authority, despite a battered economy, remains strong and formidable and Umno's dictum prevails, unchallenged.

I was taught to count my blessings. I consider serving Razak, for 14 uninterrupted years until he died, was a feather in my songkok. I was asked recently whether policy making under Razak was a one-man show or collegial. I will be brief. Razak had the stature to make major decisions.

My sun shone. We became friends and interdependent. When he died, a good part of me died, too.

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

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