HIGHLIGHTS

  • ABDUL RAHMAN and other foresighted leaders determined to avoid violent upheavals comparable to Indonesia’s war of independence and the communal strife following India’s partition. They resolved that independence must be achieved by constitutional means, agreed on the absolute necessity for interracial cooperation and chose to promote a new “Malayan” citizenship.
  • The nine hereditary rulers next were convinced they could retain their rights and privileges with independence. These evidences of political viability induced Great Britain to grant independence on August 31, 1957, and TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN became Malaya’s first Prime Minister.
  • Re-elected in 1959, he announced that his chief purpose for the next five years would be cementing national unity. In two election campaigns, moving from city to Kampong throughout the country, he has pleaded, persuaded and sold his idea of communal harmony.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his guidance of a multiracial society through its constitutional struggle for independence, toward communal alliance and national identity. Emerging as a symbol of racial accord, the TUNKU has brought the communities of Malaya into a working partnership based on mutual rights and responsibilities and fostered an understanding—rare in newly independent nations—that the future is best insured with tolerance and goodwill among one’s fellowmen.”

 CITATION

Leadership was suddenly thrust upon TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN in 1951 at the age of 48. Assuming a task no prominent politician wanted, he became president of the United Malays National Organization when it verged on fragmenting over extension of equal membership rights to all races. Close friends had sensed his political acumen and observed the ability to find common ground regardless of color or calling that would make this son of a Sultan of Kedah a nation-builder and, in six years, Bapa Merdeka, or Father of Malayan Independence.

Malaya’s progress toward nationhood then was mired in divisive factionalism. Eleven states, some feudal and others modern, held Southeast Asia’s least homogenous mixture of races, religions, languages and cultural groups. Roughly 50 per cent Malays, 37 per cent Chinese, 11 per cent Indian, Pakistani and Ceylonese and the remainder miscellaneous minorities, each community in itself was a composite, with Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus speaking different dialects and holding to their ancestral customs. Most at odds were the Malays, sometimes arrogantly possessive of their birthright, and Chinese, with superior economic and educational resources they could use for gaining political control. A communist-led insurrection compounded these differences.

ABDUL RAHMAN and other foresighted leaders determined to avoid violent upheavals comparable to Indonesia’s war of independence and the communal strife following India’s partition. They resolved that independence must be achieved by constitutional means, agreed on the absolute necessity for interracial cooperation and chose to promote a new “Malayan” citizenship.

The TUNKU’S personal message was one of sincerity, generosity and firm common sense. Meeting supporters and adversaries alike in a forthright manner that was highly persuasive, he first clarified the issues and re-formed the UMNO. He then forged an Alliance with the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress, which won a sweeping victory at the polls in 1955. The nine hereditary rulers next were convinced they could retain their rights and privileges with independence. These evidences of political viability induced Great Britain to grant independence on August 31, 1957, and TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN became Malaya’s first Prime Minister.

Re-elected in 1959, he announced that his chief purpose for the next five years would be cementing national unity. In two election campaigns, moving from city to kampong throughout the country, he has pleaded, persuaded and sold his idea of communal harmony. Keenly conscious of his people’s needs, he has made rural development a major function of a Government notable for its integrity. Though some guerrillas remain in the jungle, independence, a flourishing economy with one of the highest per capita incomes in Asia and communal cooperation have curbed rebel appeal, and, in July 1960, the Emergency declared 12 years earlier was officially ended.

In electing His Excellency, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA AL-HAJ, Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, to the 1960 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his guidance of a multiracial society through its constitutional struggle for independence, toward communal alliance and national identity. Emerging as a symbol of racial accord, the TUNKU has brought the communities of Malaya into a working partnership based on mutual rights and responsibilities and fostered an understanding, rare in newly independent nations, that the future is best insured with tolerance and goodwill among one’s fellowmen.

 RESPONSE

I have come on behalf of my father, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA, the Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, to receive the high honor of an Award for Community Leadership which the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation is so generously bestowing upon him.

My father has asked me to express his sincere thanks and his deep appreciation for your having singled him out as one of the recipients for award in the year 1960.

He feels that recognition of his services in the cause of humanity is a tribute not to him alone but also to his colleagues and to the people of Malaya, for it is they who have made him worthy of your consideration.

It was the people of Malaya who made the achievement of Malayan Independence possible. It is the people of Malaya who have worked to build up goodwill and understanding between all the diverse races in our country. And it is the people of Malaya again who have helped my father to establish a contented, happy and prosperous state in the Federation of Malaya.

His burden has been made very much lighter through the willing and ready cooperation he has received from the Malayan people, irrespective of their race, creed or color. Through the help of the people also, the security forces of the Federation have been able to crush the Communist uprising which lasted for 12 long years.

On the 31st of July this year, just one month ago, the Government of the Federation of Malaya, was able to declare that the Emergency was over at last, and that it could now remove all the Emergency Regulations which had restricted the freedom of the people during these years of trial.

Today the people of Malaya are enjoying greater prosperity, greater peace of mind, and greater harmony than they have ever enjoyed before. The honor which you so thoughtfully give to my father in the form of a Ramon Magsaysay Award is most truly shared by all the people of my country.

My father has sent me, being his closest kin and his only son, to come to Manila to receive the Award. Nothing would have pleased him better than to have been able to come here himself, but it so happens that this birthday anniversary of the late and great Ramon Magsaysay also falls on the day when the whole of Malaya celebrates national independence, today being the third anniversary of the great event.

You will, I am sure, readily understand that because of this coincidence he was not himself able to make the journey.

He has asked me to renew once again the feelings of goodwill and friendship which the people of Malaya have for the people of the Philippines. He also asks me to convey to the people of the Philippines his good wishes for the speedy recovery of President Garcia, whom he understands is not too well, and whose illness has caused a postponement of his visit to Malaya. The Malayan people had looked forward to his visit with great anticipation, and my father hopes that the opportunity for him to do so will soon occur.

If I can speak for myself I would like to say also both as a Malayan and as my father’s son it is a great honor for me to represent him on this momentous day. Lastly I particularly wish to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the gracious hospitality and the warm welcome they have so cordially extended to me in Manila. This is the first time I have visited your country, of which I have heard so much, and may I say I have enjoyed every moment of my stay.

On behalf of my father and myself I thank you once again.

 BIOGRAPHY

A Malay prince with scant political experience but able to identify with rich and poor of diverse ethnic origins and thus to gain their confidence, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN led Malaya to independence without bloodshed. While many in theory saw cooperation and unity as the only course, it remained for Malay, Chinese and Indian actually to be brought together in the common cause of nation-building. As chief architect of an effective alliance, the TUNKU took to every city, town and village his persuasively sincere message of racial accord in a new “Malayan” community.

TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA was born at Alor Star, capital of the Malay State of Kedah, on February 8, 1903. The twenty-first son of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, who reigned for 61 years, the TUNKU is descended from one of the most extensive and perhaps the oldest royal family in Malaya, traceable in an unbroken line over more than 1,000 years through nine Hindu rulers and 16 Muslim sultans. The TUNKU’s mother, Makche Menjelara, was the daughter of Luang Nara Boriraks, a Shan chieftain later a District Officer posted near Bangkok whose ancestors emigrated from Pegu, Burma. The sixth of the Sultan’s eight wives and his favorite until her death in 1941, Menjelara was well endowed with property in her own right—in Bangkok, left by her father, and in Kedah, given to her by her adopted father and her husband—which she shrewdly administered. ABDUL RAHMAN was the sixth of her 12 children.

The TUNKU’s father, Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, from 1896 until his death in 1943 at the age of 79 was not well, seldom ventured outside of his palace except to visit his wives, and left affairs of state to a brother or son acting as Regent. In 1909, however, he caused an onerous Siamese claim of suzerainty over Kedah to be lifted by the signing of a treaty with Britain that brought direct British influence into the State. Like Perlis, Johore, Trengganu and Kelantan, Kedah remained aloof from political union with the Federated Malay States, retaining a large measure of self-determination in internal administration. Even before British intervention, Kedah had a reputation of being more advanced than any other State in the Peninsula largely due to the ability of its princes, who assumed active roles in governments.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)