Al-Fatihah and Happy Birthday to our third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn, who was born on the 12th of February, 1922, to Dato’ Onn Ja’afar and Datin Halimah Hussein. Tun Hussein came from a politically active family: his father Dato’ Onn Ja’afar was the founder and first President of UMNO while his grandfather, Dato’ Ja’afar, was appointed Advisor and Secretary of Johor before becoming the state’s first Chief Minister (1886 – 1919).
Tun Hussein became Malaysia’s third Prime Minister upon the death of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein in 1976.
His full biography is available here
Here are interesting facts about Tun Hussein Onn:
1. Tun Hussein’s childhood was fraught with economic hardships. When he was six, his father – who had incurred the wrath of the Sultan – was exiled to Singapore.
2. Tun Hussein started formal school at the Telok Kurau English School in Joo Chiat Place, Singapore, and one of his schoolmates was Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore
3. Tun Hussein was an average student in school. He obtained a “Grade 2” for his Senior Cambridge School Certificate and joined the Johor Military Forces.
4. He was sent to the renowned Military Academy of India in Dehradun in 1940 for military training with Tan Sri Ibrahim Ismail and Brigadier Ungku Ahmad as his classmates. He said this of the Academy: “It not only taught me military science, but what is more important, it had taught me the art and quality of leadership, loyalty to one’s country and responsibility for the welfare and well-being of those who had given their trust in you.”
5. Tun Hussein was with the 19th Hyderabad Regiment and was sent to the Middle East in 1942. He returned to Malaya in 1945 and was posted as Commandant of the Police Depot in Johor Bharu.
6. He left government service to pursue a career in politics and helped to organize rallies for UMNO to protest against the Malayan Union
7. Tun Hussein was an avid reader and used to spend hours in bookstores – his favourite subjects were politics and war
8. His wife, Tun Suhailah Tan Sri Mohamed Noah Omar, is the sister to Tun Hajjah Rahah, the wife of the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein.
9. His father-in-law, Tan Sri Noah, was one of the founder members of UMNO and was the first Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat
10. During the Emergency of 1948, Tun Hussein formed and trained almost one thousand civilians in Johor to become “Village Guards”, the first volunteer security organisation, to defend and fight against Communist insurgence
11. Tun Hussein Onn’s father, Dato’ Onn Jaafar, left UMNO in 1951 when UMNO members refused to allow non-Malays as associate members. Tun Hussein followed his father and left the party. In the period that followed, he went to London to continue his studies in Law.
12. Tun Hussein was unhappy about how UMNO and its leaders treated his father after he left the party. “If you are down in the drain, they will not help to lift you up, instead they will only step on you more,” he said, referring to how his father was treated by the Malays he tried to help
13. He was active in the Malay Society in London, and got to know Datuk Sulaiman Alias and Tun Daim Zainuddin who were both studying for their finals. He was called “Captain” by his friends in London.
14. After eight years, Tun Hussein returned to Malaya and joined Skrine and Co (after Bannon & Bailey) where he worked as Legal Assistant with Tan Sri Alex Lee and Dato’ Thomas Lee, sons of Tun HS Lee, the first Finance Minister of Malaysia. He was soon made partner of Skrine and held the post until his cabinet appointment
15. In 1967, Tun Hussein and Tun Daim handled a case together where they represented five poor Malays who were accused of murder. Tun Daim recalls him as being very meticulous, deliberate and always conscious of his clients’ welfare
16. When Tun Hussein rejoined UMNO in 1969, his family members were strongly opposed to his decision
17. In 1969, he stood for elections as an UMNO candidate in Johor Bharu, where the electorate had rejected his father 14 years ago, and won by a majority of 5,000 votes against the DAP candidate
18. Once in cabinet, he was not gregarious and did not believe in cliques and gangs or informal advisers. Even close friends who could be seen as influencing his decisions were dropped. He was very much a loner in politics and a strict disciplinarian.
19. When Tun Dr. Ismail, the Deputy Prime Minister, died in 1973, Tun Hussein was in London. When informed he was one of those considered for the position of DPM, he canceled his return trip and stayed on in London because, according to his wife, he did not want to be involved in the jockeying for power. Tun Razak, the Prime Minister, appointed him Deputy Prime Minister in 1973. Upon Tun Razak’s death in 1976, Tun Hussein became Prime Minister.
20. As Prime Minister, Tun Hussein’s strong stance against corruption was what prompted him to expel the popular Selangor Menteri Besar, Dato’ Harun Idris, from the party on corruption charges. Dato’ Harun was subsequently found guilty by the Courts and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
21. As Prime Minister, Tun Hussein insisted that no politician or any of his relatives should be awarded any land. When he was offered a beachfront land in Port Dickson, he declined.
22. He was a staunch supporter of the New Economic Policy. In 1979, when some rich Chinese Malaysians complained about being treated as second-class citizens, Tun Hussien said in an interview with the Far Eastern Economic Review, “Let me be a second-class citizen but a millionaire. Where in the world do you get so many second-class citizens who are millionaires?”
23. Tun Hussein took his responsibilities very seriously and insisted on considering every aspect of an issue before making a decision. Hence, cabinet meetings could go on for as long as seven hours.
24. Tun Hussein was famous for his red pen and six-inch ruler with which he would underline major points.
25. After his retirement in 1981 due to poor health, Tun Hussein continued to voice out his views particularly against corruption and mismanagement of public funds. One of his last public acts was to form the National Human Rights Society in August 1989 to promote and encourage respect and observance of individual and collective human rights and to campaign for the repeal of all laws inconsistent with the principles of human rights and the rule of law.
Note: The above were compiled by Perdana Leadership Foundation from the following sources which are all available in the Perdana Leadership Foundation Library (becoming a member is free, for more information click here)
Sources: “Legacy of Honour” by Zainah Anwar
“Tun Hussein Onn, Bapa Perpaduan, Father of Unity” by Arkib Negara Malaysia