To many of us, 6th December is just an ordinary date – just another day in the calendar. To me, 6th December was a date I will always remember. It was the day Malaysia lost its first Prime Minister – Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. The year was 1990. I was just beginning my Standard 6 schooling session (FYI, in 1989, the government decided to start the school session in December instead of January). When I woke-up on 6th December 1990, as I was preparing myself to school, my late mother told me that I don’t have to go to school since it was a public holiday. I asked what public holiday was it and she said that Tunku died just after midnight.
I’ve developed my interest in history at an early age. When the Tunku died, I was looking forward to watch the live telecast of his funeral procession. Unfortunately, my mother did not allow me to watch it as I must attend my tuition in the afternoon at 3pm! (It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but she didn’t allow me to do so!)
Anyway, today is the 20th anniversary of the Tunku’s demise. I would like to honour him with this short article about our first Prime Minister – Father of Merdeka, Father of Malaysia.
Born at Istana Tiga Tingkat, Kedah on 8th February 1903 and was named Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. His father was the ruler of Kedah – Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah and his mother was a Siamese Aristocrat named Che Manjalara.
He had his early education in Kedah and later in Bangkok. He flew to England to further his studies – hoping for an entry to University. The Tunku was finally accepted to St Catharine College, Cambridge and later graduated in Law.
He later served as a government officer in the Kedah Civil Service. Not long after that, he was sent by his brothers to England again to complete his bar qualifications. He was never to pass his bar exams until after the World War II ended. Not until he met one young Malay boy from Pahang named Abdul Razak Bin Dato’ Hussein. It was Abdul Razak who inspired Tunku to pass his bar exams. When the Tunku passed the bar exams, there was a dinner honouring those who had recently be admitted to the bar and during the Tunku’s speech, he said that “tonight, I am not only celebrating my admission to the English Bar. But I am also celebrating my Silver Jubilee as a law student!”
When the Tunku came back to Malaya, he served in the legal service. He slowly developed an interest in Malayan politics. His friend Abdul Razak had already been active in UMNO. Not long after that, Dato’ Onn Bin Jaafar, the then President of UMNO decided to leave UMNO and the presidency was passed to Tunku Abdul Rahman.
It was during the Tunku’s presidency in UMNO that he devised a plan to collaborate with the other races in Malaya in the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Elections. Dato’ Onn’s idea was to open-up the membership of UMNO to other races but Tunku’s approach is to collaborate as an alliance without ammending any membership regulations within UMNO. This approach by Tunku was proven successful.
In the 1955 General Elections, the Tunku led the Alliance to a tremendous victory. He was made the first Chief Minister of Malaya. It was during this self-government era that the Tunku pressed the British Government to grant Malaya its independence. The Merdeka Mission of 1956 was sent to London to negotiate the terms for Malaya’s independence.
Finally, it was granted and Malaya gained its independence on 31st August 1957. The declaration of independence was given by HRH The Duke of Gloucester (the Queen’s Uncle) and was proclaimed by Tunku with seven cries of Merdeka at the Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur on 31st August 1957.
Later, as the nation progresses, the Tunku – now the Prime Minister of Malaya proposed the union of Malaya and the states of Singapore, Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo. All except Brunei agreed to join the union which later be known as the Federation of Malaysia. Alas, in 1965, Singapore decided to leave the federation and became a Republic.
The year 1969 saw the last General Election led by Tunku Abdul Rahman. Although the Alliance won, but the number of seats were greatly reduced. Some of the younger generations at that time were not fond to the Tunku’s leadership. Yet, he remained as Prime Minsiter. Slowly, he plans to pass on the leadership of the country to his deputy and long-time friend, Abdul Razak who is now known as Tun Abdul Razak.
To make the retirement inevitable, in 1970, the Sultan of Kedah – Sultan Abdul Halim Muazzam Shah was elected by the Conference of Rulers to become the next Yang Dipertuan Agong. The Sultan of Kedah is the Tunku’s nephew and according to Kedah Royal customs, an Uncle should not bow to his nephew. This may look awkward at Federal level when the Prime Minister did not bow to the King. Hence, it was decided that the Tunku will resign from the Premiership at the installation of his nephew as Yang Dipertuan Agong.
It should be highlighted here that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was one of the two persons receiving the Federal honour of DMN – which was only reserved for the nine Rulers in the country. He was given the DMN after his retirement as Prime Minister. The other non-Ruler receipient of DMN was Tun Abdul Razak, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia but Tun Abdul Razak only received the DMN post-humously, not during his lifetime. Therefore, it is safe to say that Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was the only person be awarded the DMN during his lifetime.
Not long after the Tunku left the Malaysian government, he was then appointed as the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). He continued to serve Malaysia and the world especially the Muslim community through OIC and PERKIM.
In December 1990, there were rumours spreading saying that the Tunku’s life is drawing to a close. On 6th December 1990, the Tunku passed away at the General Hospital, Kuala Lumpur. His body was brought back to his house at Bukit Tunku. In the morning, his body was brought to the Parliament House for lying-in-state. Shortly before noon, his body was carried on-foot from the Parliament House to the Sungai Besi Military Air Base. From there, his body was flown to Kedah for burial.
A few months before the Tunku’s death, he wrote an article in a newspaper column and there he mentioned that as former Prime Minister, he knew that upon his death, he will be intered at the Makam Pahlawan. Hence, it is his dying wish that he forego the privilege of having his body intered at the Makam Pahlawan. Instead, he requested that his body is to be laid to rest amongst his family in Kedah.
I can still recall the headlines of Berita Harian on 5th December, 6th December and 7th December 1990. On the 5th, the headline says in bold capital letters “TUNKU TENAT”. On the 6th, the headline says in bold “Tunku Kembali ke Rahmatullah”. On the 7th, the headline says in bold capital letters “TUNKU DISEMADIKAN”
Today is the 20th Anniversary of the demise of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. Join me in prayers in honour of the man who shaped our nation. AL-FATIHAH.