Remembered as the "Father of Independence", Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had recognised the vital importance of fostering cooperation among Malaysia’s various ethnic groups as a way to overcome political problems. It was also Tunku who envisioned the idea of Malaysia - a federation of Malaya, Singapore (which later seceded in 1965), Sabah and Sarawak which was established in 1963. Tunku is also recognised for his elevation of Islam to the status of official religion and he was instrumental in the setting up of the Organisation of Islamic Conference in 1969, of which he was the first Secretary-General. Perhaps Tunku Abdul Rahman’s greatest single achievement was in giving Malaysians a sense of pride and nationhood.
Tunku was born on February 8, 1903 in Alor Setar, the capital of the State of Kedah. He is the seventh prince of Sultan Abdul Hamid Shah, the twenty fourth Sultan of Kedah, and Che Manjalara. Said to be a robust and bright boy with a particular fondness for sports, Tunku received his early education at the Debsurin School, Bangkok and Penang Free School.
On a Kedah Government scholarship, he went on to study at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in law and history in 1925. A firsthand experience in racial discrimination with the college's administration was said to have intensified his conviction in fighting for equality and ignited his desire in making his homeland an independent state, free from British colonialism.
His leadership flair also unfolded in England. Realising the Malay students there were not represented by any organisation, he established the Kesatuan Melayu Great Britain (Malay Association of Great Britain) and became its first secretary.
After returning home, he joined the Kedah Civil Service as a cadet in the Legal Advisor's Office, and then as a district officer in several Kedah districts. He proved unpopular among some British officials thanks to his outspokenness and tendency to introduce reforms in his quest to improve the living standards of the people.
His attempt at completing his law studies at the Inner Temple in England in 1938 came to a halt due the outbreak of the Second World War. He resumed his studies eight years later and came home with his legal qualifications in 1949.
The political awareness he gained while making friends with people from various nations in England did not go to waste, when he was made chairman of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) soon after his return. On August 26, 1951, Tunku became the UMNO President succeeding Dato' Onn Jaafar. He travelled all over the country meeting people from all walks of life to promote unity. His efforts in overcoming the country's political problems by way of cooperation among the various ethnic groups saw the birth of the Alliance Party in 1955.
Under his leadership, the Alliance won the country's first general election in July 1955. Tunku was then appointed the country's Chief Minister and Minister of Home Affairs. In 1956, he led a mission to London for a discussion with the British government concerning the independence for Malaya. The meeting resulted in the signing of the Independent Treaty at Lancaster House in London on February 8, 1956 and consequently, the independence of Malaya in August 31, 1957. Tunku was then elected as the first Prime Minister of Malaya, and led the Alliance to victory in the 1959, 1964 and 1969 general elections.
Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first prime minister of the Federation of Malaya from 1957 to 1963, and of Malaysia from 1963 to 1970.
He loved football and horse racing so much that he made them as his hobbies. Under his initiative, "Pesta Bola Merdeka" was born in 1957 which led to his appointment as the first President of Asian Football Confederation (AFC). "Whatever the sport, I was a very keen sportsman. I have always been an outdoors man, a lover of all the wild things in life."
"Let us in this hour of our triumph remember those who have given their lives to enable us to enjoy ours, and let us thank those who are even at this hour spending their time in the jungle, so that we can peacefully celebrate our Merdeka. Let us always remember with gratitude what is being done by the members of the Security Forces whose valour and service to the country have helped to make large areas in this country "white", and people free to go about their business without restriction. The first anniversary of our independence is indeed a memorable one, and I pray that it will be the same next year and all the years after. To those people who have given their co-operation in the service of this country, I say the nation owes you a debt of gratitude. Let this country be an example to the rest of the world on how the various people of different races, with different creeds can live as one people, at peace with one another for the good of all. To Allah we give thanks for the blessings which we now enjoy."
An Excerpt from Tunku Abdul Rahman's Speech, "Merdeka: The First Year", 30th August 1958.