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Happy 101st Birthday Tun Abdul Razak

11th March 2023 marks the 101st birthday of the late Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister who is often referred to as the nation’s Father of Development. He was Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1970 to 1976, and passed away from leukemia at the age of 44 while still holding office. 

During his premiership and even when he was Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Razak introduced policies to improve Malaysia’s rural areas, including modernising agriculture and establishing classes to increase literacy rates among villagers. He formulated the Green Book which focused on agricultural modernisation, and the Red Book, a plan for infrastructure development especially for rural areas. 

“The Red Book was conceived, designed and put into practice by the Alliance Government for the purpose of ensuring that, no matter how far away any kampong or village may be, nevertheless the hopes and needs of its people are forever near to the heart of Government.”

Tun Abdul Razak

To speed up development and ensure policies were properly implemented, he set up operations rooms in districts throughout Malaysia. One word to describe Tun Razak would be “indefatigable” as he would tirelessly tour the country to oversee plans in action. 

He was also forward thinking in his approach to international relations and shifted Malaysia’s foreign policy stance to neutral, where Malaysia would be friendly to all countries in the world, regardless of ideology. 

This year, we feel it fitting to honour the late great man with anecdotes* by the late Tan Sri Datin Paduka Seri Hajah Aishah binti Haji Ghani, former Minister of Social Welfare, apropos to the recent International Women’s Day celebration. They provide an interesting historical context to the voice of women in politics and society in Malaysia. 

With an Ear to the Women

By Tan Sri Aishah Ghani

I first came to know Tun Abdul Razak Hussein in 1952, when I first represented Kaum Ibu UMNO Selangor movement at the party general assembly in Penang. About 200 delegates were present. At the time UMNO Penang was considered something of a force to be reckoned with for having its own party headquarters.

At the congress, I put forward a proposal from Kaum Ibu Selangor, requesting that the assembly to authorise the UMNO women’s movement to select and field its own candidates in any forthcoming general elections. The proposal was fiercely opposed as they felt that Kaum Ibu was part of UMNO and the selection of any candidates, women included, should be made by the main party. Several members of the UMNO Supreme Council intervened and suggested an amendment to be made; with the addition of the proviso “with the concurrence of the UMNO Supreme Council.”

At the time, Khatijah Sidek was the newly elected Chairperson Kaum Ibu, succeeding Ibu Zain Sulaiman. The proposal was put forward by Khatijah’s directive. She did not agree to the suggested amendment and signaled to me to reject it. But after seeing the widespread dissent and chaos, I took matters to my own hands and ignored her signal.

Right from the start, I knew that such a proposal would not be adopted as it contravened the party constitution, and not because the party would not field female candidates. Therefore in winding up my speech, I unhesitantly conceded that “I will lose but as UMNO would win, I accept the amendments suggested.” The assembly broke out in thunderous applause as I had defused a tense situation.

Later, Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Dr Ismail came to meet me and conveyed their appreciation for having saved UMNO from internal dissent. Tun Razak assured me that UMNO would give women the chance to stand in elections in appropriate constituencies.

Women Power

I also recall an incident in early 1975 when Sri Taman** was flooded by women leaders from various organisations and women’s groups. While our presence was not by invitation, the security guards did not stop us.

We came with one goal: to declare our strongest opposition to a rumoured marriage between a leading national figure and a young beauty who he wanted to take as his second wife. After a while, Tun Razak met us in his living room. My colleagues had already asked me to be their spokesperson in my capacity as minister and Wanita UMNO Chairperson. 

I gathered my courage and drew from my handbag a card from the young lady inviting her  friends to the planned wedding reception. I showed the invitation card to Tun Razak as proof of our claims. My colleagues also spoke up and we asked that the wedding be postponed, if not cancelled. We were worried that Tun would be annoyed and unsatisfied because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. But even then, Tun showed no anger. Conversely, smiling widely and finally laughing, he asked us to have some refreshments and then take our leave. 

From the start, I had said that Tun, as a caring national leader, did not believe any manner of problem brought up by women. I believe that the opposition voiced by the women leaders at Sri Taman that day was given his full attention and a few months later, the grapevine whispered that the intended marriage was no longer an issue.

**Sri Taman was Tun Razak’s official residence.

*These anecdotes were taken from the book Tun Abdul Razak: A Personal Portrait, compiled by Yayasan Tun Razak. The book is available at the Perdana Library for reading only.