Razak’s young Turk talks about his mentor

by Md Izwan
The Malaysian Insider
14 January 2015

To commemorate the 39th death anniversary of Malaysia’s second prime minister and “Father of Development” Tun Abdul Razak, The Malaysian Insider is running a series of interviews with his colleagues and close associates who, with Razak, steered Malaysia through the early days of rebuilding following the race riots of May 13, 1969.

Earlier today, we heard from four of Razak’s sons on his legacy and their personal memories of their father.

In this article, former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam speaks about Razak’s leadership style and of his experience working with the man who brought him back to Umno after his expulsion. Musa had been expelled from Umno after the race riots over a fall-out with the then prime minister and Umno president, Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Readmitted to the party by Razak, Musa went on to rise in Umno and also held the post of Minister of Primary Industries in Razak’s cabinet.

Despite the political tension surrounding Tunku’s departure and Razak’s ascension as prime minister, Musa remembers his mentor for his gentleness, patience and consultative approach, coupled with his firmness to see a decision through once it was made. These were values, Musa says, that Razak knew were needed to manage a multireligious and multiracial country like Malaysia.

TMI: What kind of person was Tun Razak to you? As a leader, a friend or a colleague?

Musa: Tun Razak was a national leader in the true sense of the word. He had vision and perception. He understood the priorities of our country on attaining independence. The long term interest of the nation, to him, was a united Malaysian nation based on the principle of unity within diversity.

Undoubtedly he recognised the immense challenges, appreciating that years of colonial rule had left the country racially compartmentalised. Razak thus started off with giving top priority to education and rural development where these, as it happened, coincided with disparities among racial groups.

In shaping the country’s priorities and targets, Razak was consultative but once conclusions and decisions were made, he ensured that these were implemented with firmness, justice and fairness.

As a leader, he was never rude (I never witnessed him raising his voice in any discussions or conversations), respected as well as respectful. His priority was national interest and never personal interest.

On a personal note, Razak was always the inspiring teacher and guide to my political journey right up to the end of his life. He was always willing, in fact always encouraging, to hear my opinions and views that I would care to bring up to him in many of my one-to-one meetings with him.

He was respectful and accessible to the young. And collectively, as the young in Umno then, we found him always ready to listen (and) at the same time advise us.

With such high respect I had of him as a national leader, I could never categorise him either as friend or colleague but as the Leader.

TMI: Please share some of the memorable things you can recall of his leadership and of personal experiences you had while working with him.

Musa: Being consultative as he was, his leadership style was focused, confident and relaxed. This, in turn, gave so much confidence (to) the different communities in the country, which in turn attracted widespread support.

One personal memorable occasion that I gained from him was a (piece of) very personal advice he gave me: “You just work hard with honesty and dedication… that way the party (i.e Umno) and the people will discover you”.

TMI: Following the May 13, 1969 racial riots, can you recall his role from the time he replaced Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister? Did you agree with the pressure against Tunku then?

Musa: After the May 13 turmoil, as chairman of the National Operations Council (NOC), the powers bestowed upon Tun Razak were near absolute. Yet, he appointed personalities who were ideas-oriented and passionate in trying to look at the best way of putting the country back on track. He dedicated himself to finding the best route to national reconciliation.

Prior to my departure from government (because of my difficulties with the Tunku, who was PM then), both Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail (then Minister of Home Affairs) separately gave me appointments for a hearing, listening intently to my criticisms and views. Even at a number of meetings which I attended, I had always felt welcome to air my views on all issues, ranging from hawkers to squatters to security as well as future direction of the country. These privileges were not exclusive to me, of course. Thus was Razak’s leadership, well informed, clear and firm.

To cap it all was the formation, the structure and the methodology of the National Consultative Council. The NCC was all inclusive of both civil society and political interests. The NCC greatly contributed to the shaping of the New Economic Policy.

On the Tunku, Tun Razak was well aware of the “out-datedness of the Tunku” as prime minister, but pleaded for time and patience. I was one of the strongest of the Tunku’s critics but within the confines of the top leadership.

To me, it was the experience and gentle skills of Tun Razak that managed to get the Tunku in the end to make way, thus paving the way to the progress of modern Malaysia.

TMI: Tun Razak set up Barisan Nasional (BN) to replace the Alliance. Do you think this formula of one-race parties sharing power in an alliance is still relevant today, or should Malaysia move towards more inclusive, multiracial political parties?

Musa: The formation of the Barisan Nasional was the culmination of Tun Razak’s personal approach towards national reconciliation through the concept of consultation, accommodation and inclusiveness. It was also his acceptance of the realities of race as a major factor in Malaysian politics; yet (it was the) start of the long journey towards a multiracial Malaysia.

Unfortunately, within Umno itself there is still a very strong lack of political willingness to accept a multiracial Malaysia in the original version as envisaged by our founding fathers led by the Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun VT Sambanthan, joined later by leaders in Sabah and Sarawak then.

The irony of it all was that it was some Umno dissidents who broke away and formed the opposition grouping that seem to venture into political multiracialism and pluralism.

“Pluralism” and “liberalism”, which actually translate into multiracialism, however, are “dirty words” currently and under intense attack by some Umno personalities as well as related groups.

Thus, it remains to be seen how these original national objectives of our founding fathers would survive. Beside the need for a strong assertive political leadership, education, overall, is the only factor that could counter such trends and threats.

TMI: Has the New Economic Policy (NEP) introduced by Tun Razak been successful in closing the gap between the rich and the poor?

Musa: The NEP has achieved considerable success. The Malays, particularly, are way above their original position of backwardness and neglect. One needs to look back to appreciate how it was then and how it is now to appreciate how successful Tun Razak was in his vision of putting Malays up to the level of playing equal parts in modern Malaysia’s national development.

One could choose selectively any lack of progress in any particular field, of course, and find fault. It was considerably the result of the NEP that racial groups in Malaysia now can no longer be compartmentalised into professions and stereotypes. There are so many social, cultural and mentalities that could easily be accepted as “Malaysian” as indeed Malaysians are proud of.

The NEP was meant to be the means to an end. The NEP itself was the means to the end objective of nationhood. Detractors are aplenty with questions of “at what cost…?” to each community. Such whining is to be expected because there is surely no perfection in any human endeavour.

As far as the NEP and its effects on the country as well as issues relating to national unity are concerned, there is an urgent need to try to get them out of the way of partisan politics and open them up to rational discussions. That is why I am encouraged by the emergence of the Group of 25, the Group of 33, etc, and the tendency towards rational debate and discussions.

More encouraging and meaningful would be if these groups could engage themselves in closed-door, non-publicised meetings in the true spirit of looking for a genuine national understanding and consensus.

Perhaps it would be helpful if one were to learn from the experiences of the National Consultative Council (NCC) formed after the May 13 turmoil. The NCC was a platform for all to have their say, yet addressors were prevented from playing to the gallery for political support. The idea here is not to duplicate but rather to use the NCC as a model to achieve positive, consensual results. Perhaps a small beginning could be such as between the G25 and the G33? Without constructive efforts, digging heels in in the current atmosphere of racial and religious stresses and tensions would bring disaster!

Considering that the NEP was launched in 1970 and that it has gone through 45 years of up-and-down experiences, it should never be dismissed as a failure. On the contrary, as I said earlier, it has achieved considerable success. It is the pull from different directions by a much more successful, enlightened and demanding civil society that has contributed to more intense demands and criticism that we all are witnessing now. It is to the credit of the BN government that a much more democratic environment exists in Malaysia.

The challenge for the governing parties now is how not to panic and resort to easy short cuts in the way of curtailing the freedoms (now that were) initiated by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

TMI: How would you describe Tun Razak’s legacy to Malaysians today?

Musa: The best tribute to Tun Razak and the best way of recognising his legacy is for the government to stay the course with calmness, with patience and a high level of tolerance in managing our beloved country. Indeed, as the most outstanding leader among our founding fathers, it was Tun Razak who wished our country to be a multireligious, multiracial one that would be to the well being of all Malaysians. – January 14, 2015.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 15 January 2015 - 11:57 am

    What I find interesting is the revelation by Abdullah Hukum who confirmed that it was Mahathir who was infront of the movement that led to the ouster of Tunku. I believe its the first confirmation of who the “pencuri lampu” are..

    What is even more interesting is that Najib played the same role his father did when oustering Badawi.. Razak’s complicity led to the rise of the ultras and Mahathir and the current mess we are in. What is his son complicity with Perkasa etc also led by an aging L’enffant terrible even more so, lead to?

  2. #2 by worldpress on Thursday, 15 January 2015 - 1:14 pm

    Worst he may called MAMAK, what a SHAME

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