Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj: Father of Independence
Remembered as the "Father of Independence", Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, had recognised the vital importance of fostering cooperation among Malaysia’s various ethnic groups as a way to overcome political challenges. The seventh son of the 25th Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, and Che' Menjalara, Tunku contested - and won - the Presidential elections of the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) in 1951. As UMNO President, he established a political coalition with the Chinese and Indians, resulting in the birth of the coalition that is now known as the National Front (Barisan Nasional). Tunku led the negotiations for independence, and on 31st August 1957, the Federation of Malaya declared its independence from the British, without a drop of blood being spilled. 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 on 16th September, 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. It can be said that Tunku Abdul Rahman’s greatest single achievement was in giving Malaysians a sense of pride and nationhood.
The late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Shah (1903-1990) was the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya in 1955, and became the first Prime Minister of Malaya in 1957. He was Prime Minister until 1970. He was affectionally called "Tunku" and is known as the "Father of Independence" and "Father of Malaysia”.
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-fifth 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 first-hand 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 nation, free of 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.
He left for England again to study and sit for his Bar examinations. 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. Tunku returned to Malaya and only resumed his studies eight years later. He finally qualified as a barrister 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, especially racial 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 on the independence for Malaya. The meeting resulted in the signing of the Independence Treaty at Lancaster House in London on February 8, 1956, that led to the independence of Malaya on 31st August, 1957. Tunku then became the first Prime Minister of Malaya, and led the Alliance to victory in the 1959, 1964, and 1969 general elections.
In 1961, Tunku proposed the idea of “Malaysia”, consisting of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak, and Brunei. Two years and a few referendums later, on 16th September 1963, Malaysia was born, made up of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore. Due to political differences, Singapore seceded from Malaysia in 1965.
Tunku Abdul Rahman was the Prime Minister of the Federation of Malay States (Malaya) from 1957 to 1963, and of Malaysia from 1963 to 1970.
He loved football and horse racing. 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,” he said.
Tunku was married three times. With his first wife, Meriam Chong, Tunku was granted two children: Tunku Khadijah and Tunku Ahmad Nerang. Meriam Chong, however, died of a malarial infection not long after giving birth to Tunku Nerang. Tunku later married to his former landlady, Violet Coulson, who he met when he was studying in London. Tunku's marriage with Violet, however, did not receive his family’s blessing, and the marriage ended in divorce around two years later. In 1939, Tunku married Tun Sharifah Rodziah, the younger sister of Syed Omar Barakbah, Tunku's college friend when he was studying in London. Tunku and Tun Sharifah did not have a child together, but they adopted three children: Faridah, Sulaiman, and Mariam.
On 6 December 1990, at the age of 87, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj died at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital. Members of the public paid their last respects at Parliament before his remains were flown to Alor Setar. Tunku was given a Royal funeral at the Balai Besar in the presence of the Sultan and Sultanah of Kedah before being buried at the Royal Mausoleum, Alor Setar. His death was a huge loss to all Malaysians and his contribution to the nation will always be remembered.
1903 Born on 8th February in Alor Setar, Kedah
1913 Attended Debsurin School in Bangkok, Thailand
1915 Attended Penang Free School, Pulau Pinang
1926 Further his studies at St. Catherine's College of Combridge University, England
1931 Served in the Kedah Public Service
1938 Served as Sungai Petani District Officer and later in Kulim, Kedah
1940 Deputy Director of Civil Defense in southern Kedah
1949 Kedah UMNO chairman
1951 Elected as President of UMNO
1954 President of the Alliance Party
1955 Member of the Federal Legislative Council
1955 Chief Minister of Malaya, holding the portfolio of Minister of Home Affairs
1955 Lead the independence delegation to London
1956 Held additional portfolios as Minister of Defense and Internal Security
1957 Chief Minister of Malaya and also Foreign Relations Minister
1959 Member of Parliament for Kuala Kedah, Kedah
1959 Prime Minister of Malaya (after the elections)
1963 Prime Minister of Malaysia
1964 Tunku was also the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports.
1970 Resigned as Malaysia's Prime Minister and President of UMNO
1971 Became the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
1973 Resigned as Kuala Kedah's Member of Parliament
1989 Advisor for Semangat 46 Party
1990 6th December - Passed away at Kuala Lumpur General Hospital at the age of 87
In 1951, Tunku Abdul Rahman was elected as President of UMNO replacing Dato' Onn Jaafar.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra has used diplomacy to unite races in Malaysia. To achieve that goal, he invited Chinese and Indian representatives to join the administration of the country.
At the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Election in 1952, UMNO for the first time collaborated with the MCA (Malayan Chinese Association) to contest in the election. The coalition of UMNO-MCA successfully defeated Dato Onn Jaafar's the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), winning 11 out of 12 seats. With this success, the MIC participated in an unofficial coalition of UMNO-MCA in 1954.
In the General Election of 1955, the coalition of UMNO-MCA-MIC expanded throughout Malaya, signifying the birth of the Alliance Party. The Alliance successfully won 51 of the 52 seats contested on the promise to win independence for the Federation of Malaya. Tunku Abdul Rahman was appointed Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya.
At the stroke of midnight, August 30, 1957, the Union Jack flag was lowered at Dataran Merdeka, and the flag of the Federation of Malaya was raised in front of twenty thousand Malayan people. Malaya had become independent. Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first Prime Minister of Malaya.
As prime minister, Tunku prioritized infrastructure development, education, rural development, and agriculture.
In 1961, Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed that the Federation of Malaya combine with Singapore, Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia. On 16th September 1963, Malaysia was formed, consisting of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore. Due to political differences, Singapore seceded from Malaysia in 1965.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra led the efforts of UMNO and later the Alliance Party to discuss with the British government on the independence of Malaya. His endeavors resulted in the Independence of Malaya Agreement signed by the Malayan and British government representatives at Lancaster House, London on February 8, 1956. The treaty set the date of independence of Malaya as August 31, 1957.
Tunku has succeeded in establishing a political co-operation through the Alliance Party that combines UMNO with MCA in 1952, followed by the MIC in 1954. This political co-operation contributed to the unity of races in the newly independent plural country, where every race was represented at the federal level.
Malaya faced a strong internal enemy in the form of the armed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) headed by Chin Peng. A state of emergency was proclaimed in 1948 following the assassination of three British estate managers by the CPM. In 1951, CPM killed Sir Henry Gurney, Governor of Malaya.
Various attempts were made to defeat communist threats including banning the CPM, and transferring the Chinese population to new villages to prevent them from voluntarily or involuntarily helping the communists. On 24 December 1955, a meeting was held with the CPM in Baling, Kedah. The meeting was led on the government's side by Tunku Abdul Rahman, accompanied by Tun Tan Cheng Lock as MCA President and David Marshall as Chief Minister of Singapore. The communists were represented by Chin Peng as chief of delegation, Rashid Maidin, and Chen Tian.
Negotiations failed as the CPM insisted on being recognised as a legitimate political party, a request rejected by Tunku Abdul Rahman. Chin Peng was not allowed to return to Malaya, and the emergency ended on July 31, 1960.
Overseas policy is important in promoting friendship and regional cooperation and outside countries. Tunku Abdul Rahman adopted the charter of the United Nations and also positioned Malaysia as a neutral country.
The young nation participated in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Commonwealth, ILO (International Labor Organisation), and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation), among others.
Tunku also proposed the setting up of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) and was appointed the OIC's frst Secretary-General.
A more elaborate biography presented in an interactive timeline is available here: https://www.perdana.org.my/pms-of-malaysia/visual-timeline
You can also download an infographic version of our former Prime Minister's biography here: https://www.perdana.org.my/pms-of-malaysia/biography-infographics
"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."