After taking over from Tunku, Razak began asserting Umno’s leadership in the Alliance. He introduced the country’s most significant foundation in the social, political and economical aspects, which has made Malaysia what it is today. One of his earliest moves as prime minister saw the introduction of Rukun Negara.
The national philosophy declaration made on Aug 31, 1970, encouraged a shaken nation and its people on the path of unity. When Parliament reconvened in 1971, negotiations began with former opposition parties Gerakan and People’s Progressive Party.
A year later, both parties joined the Alliance, followed by Pas. This led to the birth of Barisan Nasional (BN) in 1974.
It also saw the inclusion of Sabah- and Sarawak-based political parties. It was done out of a dire need to revamp the Alliance following its electoral performance in 1969.
The “grand coalition” of 11 parties, under Razak’s stewardship, triumphed in the 1974 elections. BN won 135 seats out of the 154 it contested, gaining an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Umno won 62 seats.
Another pivotal move was Razak’s introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP).
This was a social re-engineering and action programme formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) that Razak headed. NOC ran the country when Parliament was suspended following the riots.
NEP was drawn up to eradicate poverty, subsequently eliminating identification of race by their economic function and geographical location.
NEP’s policy goals also led to redistribution of the economic pie. It saw economic progress being made and absolute poverty reduced by 1990.
NEP and the setting up of BN, saw not only Umno, but also the nation becoming stable during Razak’s administration.
It was under his leadership that the country became the world’s largest rubber producer.
It also saw Malaysia making forays into the electronics, as well as the oil and gas sectors.
These successes were attributed to Razak’s “Red Book” development policy, on which the nation’s foundation was built.
Sungai Petani Umno division permanent chairman Makbul Ilahi lauded Razak’s achievements as the then Umno president and prime minister, as he championed the rights of Malays, who were in need of much economic leverage to escape poverty.
“Not only did Razak succeed in maintaining unity in Umno, but he also fought hard to better the lives of Malays in rural areas.
“His hard work and legacy in defending marginalised Malay communities as Umno president continues till today, as we can see non-urban areas remaining as Umno stronghold,” he said.
He added that Malays were also able to progress due to Razak’s initiatives, such as Federal Land Development Authority (Felda) and Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Felcra).
At the height of Razak’s administration, Makbul said, Umno became a venerable party and the backbone of BN. “Barisan Nasional was virtually rift-free and mutual respect was maintained between the parties, as Razak was known for his fair-mindedness and grassroots advocacy,” he added.
Six years after holding office, Razak succumbed to leukaemia and died in London on Jan 14, 1976.
Following his death, Tun Hussein Onn, the son of Umno founder Datuk Sir Onn Jaafar, became the third prime minister and subsequently Umno’s president.
Hussein, the sixth of Onn’s 12 children, was heavily involved in Malaya’s early political scene. He was known for his dexterity and rigour, especially in matters involving unity and economic balance between the races.
After the 1977 Kelantan Emergency, state elections were held and BN won the Pas stronghold state after its 19-year rule.
Hussein led Umno and BN to victory in the 5th General Election in 1978. It saw Umno winning 69 out of the 74 seats it contested.
As Razak’s successor, Hussein had a tough task in choosing between Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad (now Tun), Tun Muhammad Ghazali Shafie and former Malacca chief minister Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba as deputy prime minister.
It was not an easy decision for Hussein to make, but after six weeks, Dr Mahathir was appointed as his deputy. In early 1981, Hussein underwent a coronary bypass.
Due to health concerns, he retired from politics and relinquished his post on July 17 of the same year.
Dr Mahathir assumed the post of prime minister at the age of 55.
In his initial years as premier, Umno continued to prosper, with its candidates winning 70 out of the 75 seats contested in the 1982 General Election.
BN also won big, gaining 132 parliamentary seats out of the 154 it contested. In inheriting the NEP, Dr Mahathir also actively pursued the privatisation of government enterprises.
Under his leadership, the national carrier, utilities and telecommunication firms were privatised. He also oversaw the formation of Proton, which eventually became the largest car maker in Southeast Asia by the end of the 1980s.
Things, however, changed in the 1987 Umno elections. It saw the emergence of two camps — Team A and Team B — one belonging to Dr Mahathir and the other to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li) respectively.
The rivalry was a result of Ku Li challenging Dr Mahathir for the party leadership. With a slim 41-vote majority, Dr Mahathir won the party election and subsequently removed all Team B members from the cabinet.
This saw Team B leaders claiming that many party delegates were improperly elected, and they eventually filed a suit to revoke the outcome of the party polls.
This saw the party being declared illegal on technical grounds in 1988. Dr Mahathir immediately reconstituted Umno, with only Team A members as “Umno Baru”.
Makbul said Dr Mahathir’s guile and ferocity had helped him emerge from the wilderness during Tunku Abdul Rahman’s premiership to becoming the longest-serving prime minister.
However he also attributed much of the instability within Umno to Dr Mahathir’s pragmatic and ruthless ways.
“During his reign, Dr Mahathir’s ways had, more often than not, contradicted Malay mannerisms and values.
“This went against Hussein’s softer approach, which was a continuation of Razak’s legacy.”
Being an irrefutably intelligent leader and impressive orator, Makbul said Dr Mahathir managed to influence and gain trust from the majority of Umno leaders.
It was also undeniable, he added, that Dr Mahathir ruled with an iron fist and this caused a major friction within Umno. Makbul added that the infamous Team A and Team B debacle almost saw Dr Mahathir’s downfall but he was “saved” by Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s u-turn decision to back him a day before Umno held their polls to choose a new leader.
See also : Tunku's rise and fall