Tun Abdul Razak

Tun Abdul Razak

Premiership of Tun Abdul Razak

Among the leaders of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Tunku Abdul Rahman was probably the one person who had enjoyed the trust and confidence of all races in the country. He was the leader of the struggle for independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman was in the forefront for the formation of Malaysia. He led the Malaysian campaign against Indonesia’s Confrontation, the biggest post-independence external threat to the security of the country.

Thus, taking over from Tunku Abdul Rahman was obviously difficult, where more efficiency was needed, and in historical perspective may prove to be a thankless task. With the circumstance of the racial antagonism between the Malays and the Chinese still hanging, for all his experience, Tun Abdul Razak was to be the man who had to fulfill the need of the country for a dynamic new leader with enough personal magnetism to unite its multi-racial population after the resignation of Tunku Abdul Rahman. 

Tun Abdul Razak had the practicalities of guiding Malaysia along a new path where the imperatives of the economic growth had to be aligned with equally pressing problems of social justice. The fundamental task of Tun Abdul Razak was to reassure the Malay majority that they would participate fully in the benefits of development and to assure the other races that they could be secure in the knowledge that they too are Malaysians. To succeed in this balancing act Tun Abdul Razak would have to resist pressures from the extremists not only on the political fringe but within his own Party, UMNO, and even within the administrative establishment. 

In preventing racial and class cleavages that would overlap and threaten political stability once again, Tun Abdul Razak had to maintain his uncompromising stand on the country’s need for self-reliance and national unity, the need to bring peace, goodwill and prosperity to the people, especially the poor in both town and rural areas. Tun Abdul Razak believed in the leading role of UMNO in succeeding in bringing peace, goodwill and prosperity to the people on equal terms. 

When Tun Abdul Razak officially became Prime Minister at 9.40 am on Tuesday, September 22, 1970, he did not announce the names of his Government. But when he came to speak to the Party stalwarts of UMNO the next day, on September 23, he made a single departure from his prepared text to announce that Tun Dr. Ismail, Minister for Home Affairs, would be his Deputy. Tun Abdul Razak also stated that it was the responsibility of UMNO to determine the pattern of the political and economic development of the country.

As mentioned earlier, the year 1969 was a momentous turning point for the country, for politics in general, for UMNO as a party, and for Tun Abdul Razak personally. Just after he became Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak managed to build a team of leaders who were willing to impose UMNO’s preferences and interests as the functioning Party of Government. These new leaders were important in the process of changing not just the employment pattern of society but also the whole ownership structure of the economy. Such a change was necessary for national unity and for alleviating the psychological anxieties of the Malays. 

This preference had immediately led Tun Abdul Razak to construct a Cabinet. Besides Tun Dr. Ismail who was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak requested Tun Hussein Onn, who was his brother –in-law, to leave his private law practice to serve the nation as Minister of Education. Since the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) abandoned its decision not to participate in the Government, Tun Tan Siew Sin returned to the Cabinet as Minister of Finance.

Influenced  by Executive Council (EXCO) of UMNO Youth, under the leadership of Dato’ Harun Idris who was then the Chief Minister of Selangor, Tun Abdul Razak brought back Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir to the Government and to the Party. Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir, a man of vision who had demonstrated his charismatic leadership, a fact which eventually got him dismissed by Tunku Abdul Rahman due to incompatibility of thoughts, would not have escaped Tun Abdul Razak’s attention.

Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir, a medical practitioner in the northern town of Alor Star, was welcomed back into UMNO early in March 1972 after three years in a kind of political uncertainty. He was expelled following anti-Tunku Abdul Rahman activities in May 1969. Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir was branded as anti-Tunku Abdul Rahman, which led to him being considered as extremist. The simplistic hypothesis went out that Tunku Abdul Rahman was pro-Chinese, in a special sense, and thus those who opposed him must be anti-Chinese. Together in thoughts with Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir was Tan Sri Musa Hitam who had called upon Tunku Abdul Rahman to step down. Tan Sri Musa Hitam was then Vice-President of UMNO Youth and Chairman of the influential Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA). Incidentally, he sat on the Disciplinary Committee which readmitted Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir. 

Initially, people generally saw Dato’ Seri Dr Mahathir as an ‘ultra’, a Malay nationalist who demanded that the Malays be given a better deal in their own country. The non-Malays had to make some kind of compromise, albeit modest while the Malays had to make greater efforts to drag themselves out from their unproductive lifestyle. With time, it was discovered that the picture painted for Dato’ Seri Dr. Mahathir was not true. He would not have reached the top position in Malaysian politics, and built a multi-racial nation with such endeavour if he were a racialist.

Tun Abdul Razak also showed his commitment to mutual tolerance by the withdrawal of the ban on party politics. The ban on party politics was withdrawn only after the National Operations Council (NOC), with the full support of the National Consultative Council (NCC), amended the Sedition Act in August 1970. As mentioned earlier, the NOC arbitrarily decreed the strengthening of the Sedition Act meant to prohibit public or parliamentary questioning of four key issues: citizenship, national language, special position of Malays, and the position of the rulers.

The other great upheaval carried out during this same period was in the field of international relations, involving a spectacular re-alignment of foreign policy, which would face up to the realities of the distribution of military and economic power in the world and take Malaysia firmly into the Afro-Asian camp, particularly in the Pan-Islamic camp. In view of Malaysia’s non-aligned stance, and no compensating reference was made to the proposed five-Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA), neutralization in Southeast Asia was important. It was Tun Abdul Razak who emphasized that Malaysia must have a ‘good name’ in the non-aligned world as well as among the states of Eastern Europe. 

More importantly, Tun Abdul Razak, who faced the unfortunate national tragedy in mid-1969, was brought to the pinnacle of political power in Malaysia, pledged to correct the country’s social ills and promote inter-racial harmony, mutual tolerance, and national unity. The driving force behind his political career was the ultimate implementation of what would amount to no less than the complete restructuring of the country’s non-egalitarian society and of its racially unbalanced economy. The support of the Alliance Party, which was at the helm and comprised as before the three communal parties, UMNO, the MCA and the MIC (the Malaysian Indian Congress), was vital to Tun Abdul Razak’s new strategy to meet the interrelated problems of the economic deprivation of the Malays and the hostility and ill-feeling of the Chinese which was keeping the Malays and Chinese apart.

An Excerpt from Tun Abdul Razak: Phenomenon in Malaysia Politics by Paridah Abd. Samad


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