Now, more than ever, we need Tunku Abdul Rahman

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra served as the prime minister of Malaysia from 1957 to 1970.

PETALING JAYA: The nation’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, embodied deep-seated humility in an era of boundless Malaysian optimism.

The story of the man called Bapa Merdeka and Bapa Malaysia, as the architect of Malayan independence and the formation of Malaysia, teaches us many things about the type of people we wish to see in public office at times of deep challenge.

Perhaps, most of all, it shows us the importance of being humble: humility breeds empathy; arrogance yields division and failure.

In a series to mark the 64th anniversary of Merdeka, FMT has collected timeless photographs of the Tunku, who served as prime minister from 1957 to 1970, to give a taste of a man who was a symbol of unity, interracial peace and harmony.

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A relationship of trust with the peopleTunku was a leader people loved to see. Solidarity was at the heart of his leadership.

At times, he wore shorts and loafers during walkabouts, appearing warm and down to earth. He had a gift for empathy and fostering unity and never turned anyone aside.

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A great man is always willing to be humble

May 2, 1964: Tunku’s official Chrysler car was stranded due to an overheated brake pad on his way to Fraser’s Hill for a vacation

This picture of Tunku, watching his staff attending to the problem, is one of the most striking pictures of the modest and understanding prime minister.

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Hard punches to break free

The “Prince of Peace” is pictured as a boxer in a fighting pose reportedly in 1920. He didn’t pursue the sport but boxing tricks must have come in handy when he squared off against his enemies.

As a freedom fighter and prime minister, he floored many, including the communists, Indonesian dictator Soekarno, and hypocrites and misfits in government service.

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Men who overcame barriers and became symbols of reconciliation

A 1975 picture, in its full glory, of legendary statesman Tunku and the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, taken at a dinner before the champion’s fight against Joe Bugner in Kuala Lumpur.

News reports stated Ali spoke of his convictions and conversion to Islam to Tunku who was then president of the Muslim Welfare Organisation Malaysia (Perkim).

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The conscience of the nation

It is said Tunku hated hypocrisy and through his writings in The Star newspaper as ex-prime minister, he ventured into areas where angels might fear to tread.

He said what he thought was wrong with the country. He gave powerful personalities and government officials the jitters with his no-holds-barred comments. The public loved it.

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Telling a straight story

Veteran journalists say Tunku’s discourse with the press was measured and refined, distinct from the torrent of misstatements from today’s leaders.

Newsmen enjoyed his press conferences which gave Tunku the opportunity to profess that caring about and supporting people shouldn’t hold you back, but would, rather, empower you.

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Making sports a nation builder

Tunku held that Malaysia should be a top sports playing nation. He led the way to sporting culture and a fit country.

Pictures of him in newspapers, playing golf, kicking a football and shaking hands with sports people, encouraged the young to pick up a sport to play.

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A beautiful man’s love for the beautiful game

Tunku’s passion in using the appeal of football to promote national unity and instil pride among Malaysians is a testament to his foresight as a leader of a multiracial country.

He loved sport from his boyhood days, so it is little wonder that Malaysia excelled in various sports when he was prime minister.

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Fostering unity and love for country through the arts

Tunku has shaken a lot of hands in his day including actors, musicians and other cultural figures whom he saw as special agents of unity.

Here, he is seen engaging with movie idols P Ramlee and Saloma, both of whom exhibited a rare blend of charisma, just like Tunku.

Honest, never a hypocrite

Tunku once said: “People can say anything about me but none will ever accuse me of having been a hypocrite.”

Tunku openly declared his love for horse racing and was co-owner of the thoroughbred racehorse Think Big which won the Melbourne Cup in 1974 and 1975.

“We have got to make a home of this country and we have got to live happily together ever after. Let us contribute our share towards it, each and every one of us, no matter what may be our race or creed.” – Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-Haj.


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