When he took over from Tunku Abdul Rahman (the first prime minister and the nation’s Father of Independence) in the aftermath of the May 13, 1969, race riots, Razak had a huge responsibility to reunite and rebuild the trust of the people.
A lawyer by training, Razak was regarded as a capable and pragmatic leader, who made immense contributions during his years in office from Sept 22, 1970, to Jan 14, 1976.
He led the National Operation Council (NOC) in formulating the Rukun Negara in 1970 and launched the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, which strongly addressed the disparities that fuelled racial antagonism.
The NOC was set up with emergency powers in 1969 after the race riots, and Razak was appointed as the director of operations.
The NEP was a social and economic re-engineering programme by the NOC, which temporarily governed the country when Parliament was suspended following the riots.
The NEP had two goals - to reduce and eradicate poverty among all Malaysians and to eliminate racial identification by economic roles.
NEP’s policies led to the redistribution of the economic pie and saw the reduction of hardcore poverty in 1990. In 1974, he lifted the state of Emergency and restored parliamentary democracy by holding the general election.
A pivotal move by Razak was the setting up of Barisan Nasional (BN) (the ruling coalition comprising political parties that succeeded the Alliance Party) on Jan 1, 1973.
He forged a new National Consensus by including opposition parties like Gerakan, the People’s Progressive Party and Sarawak United People’s Party.
Under Razak’s stewardship, the “grand coalition” of 11 parties (including those from Sabah and Sarawak), won the 1974 General Election by a landslide.
BN held 135 seats out of the 154 it contested, gaining an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Umno had won 62 seats.
Razak also increased the membership of BN parties to build political stability. The implementation of the NEP and the setting up of BN saw not only Umno, but also the nation, becoming stable.
However, while focusing on mending race relations and economic stability, Razak was also battling leukaemia, a disease he succumbed to on Jan 14, 1976, while seeking treatment in London. He was 54 years old.
Today, Jan 14 marks the 40th anniversary of his death. It is the day that Malaysia lost its second prime minister, the day the nation lost a leader and the day Malaysians lost a man of integrity.
Born in Pulau Keladi, Pekan in Pahang on March 11, 1922, to Datuk Hussein Mohd Taib (the Orang Kaya Indera Shah Bandar Pahang) and Teh Fatimah Daud, Razak was raised by his grandfather, who valued religion and tradition.
He was the eldest of two children and the only son in a family of Bugis descent. Despite his noble status, Razak led a simple life with his wife, Toh Puan Rahah (daughter of Tan Sri Mohamad Noah Omar, a former home minister and the first Speaker of Dewan Rakyat), whom he married in 1952.
greeting him on his return from overseas.
His eldest son, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, became the sixth prime minister of Malaysia on Apr 3, 2009. He had four other sons — Ahmad Johari, Mohamed Nizam, Mohamed Nazim and Mohamed Nazir.
He was the brother-in-law of Tun Hussein Onn (his successor as prime minister), who married Tun Suhaila Mohamad Noah, who is another daughter of Noah.
Although coming from an aristocratic family, he was noted as a humble and polite person, traits that were apparent from his school days. Razak loved sport, particularly hockey and tennis, and was also an avid golfer.
He received his early education at a Malay school in Pekan and went to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar in Perak in 1934.
He was awarded a scholarship to further his studies at Raffles College, Singapore, in 1940 after he joined the Malay Administrative Service in 1939.
In college, he forged a reputation as a capable student leader and an outstanding sportsman. His studies, however, was interrupted with the outbreak of World War 2.
During the Japanese occupation, Razak helped to organise the Malay Resistance Movement (Wataniah) in Pahang, which in 1944, joined the British guerilla Force 136.
He was given the rank of captain. When the war ended in 1945, Razak joined the civil service and became an assistant district officer in Raub.
In 1947, he was awarded a Malayan Union scholarship to read law in England, where he joined Lincoln’s Inn in October that year.
He received a Degree of an Utter Barrister in 1950. During his studies, not only was he bright student, but he was also active in extracurricular activities.
He organised and became the captain of the first hockey team for Malays in Britain. His interest in politics grew, which led him to become a member of the British Labour Party and a prominent student leader of the Malay Association of Great Britain (the Malay students’ political organisation in London).
He served as the association’s secretary in 1947 and became president in 1949. Razak also founded the Malayan Forum, an organisation for Malayan students to discuss their country’s political issues.
He returned to Malaya in May 1950 and joined the Malayan Civil Service as deputy state secretary of Pahang.
Behind him is Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Tan Sri Mohd Ghazali Jawi.
Due to his notable political calibre, he became the Umno Youth chief in 1950. He was also elected as a vice-president and a member of the party’s supreme council.
Two years later, he became the Pahang assistant state secretary. In 1955, at just 33 years old, Razak was elevated to menteri besar in February 1955, launching his career in the national political arena.
He won a seat in the country’s first general elections in July 1955 and was appointed as the education minister, the first person to hold the portfolio in the country.
During his stint, Razak brought about many significant changes in the education system, including issues related to Bahasa Melayu.
He also produced the National Education Policy, known as the Razak Report 1956 — the first education blueprint in Malaysia.
The report was published on May 16, 1956, and served to develop the country’s education.
Among the key issues in the report were Bahasa Melayu to be recognised as the medium of instruction at schools and the need to instil unity among students.
During his tenure as the education minister, Razak built 3,000 schools and three million illiterate adults were taught to read and write via tutorial classes.
They are flanked by their wives.
After the general elections in 1957, he became the deputy prime minister while holding two other portfolios of rural development (1959-1969) and defence (1957-1970).
He pioneered the “Red Book” initiative in 1960, on which the nation’s foundation was built, and the “Operations Room” system to track rural development in Malaysia.
It was under his leadership that the country became the world’s largest rubber producer. It also saw Malaysia making forays into electronics, as well as the oil and gas sectors.
He was aptly honoured as Malaysia’s “Father of Development” thanks to his contributions and dedication. He was widely regarded as a “People First” leader.
He also played a pivotal role in the country’s independence by being a member of the February 1956 mission to London to seek the independence of Malaya from Britain.
Razak was awarded the Seri Maharaja Mangku Negara, one of Malaya’s (and Malaysia’s) highest honours, which carries the title of Tun in 1959.
during a banquet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
With him is Sarawak Affairs Minister Tun Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng (second from right).
In international relations, Razak pursued a pragmatic foreign policy that assured security within the country and Southeast Asia. He proposed the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (Zopfan) concept, which was incorporated in the Kuala Lumpur Declaration of 1971 and signed by Asean leaders. Zopfan sought to keep Southeast Asia’s neutral stand among the world’s superpowers and strengthen regional cooperation.
Under his leadership, Bumiputera participation in the economic sector had grown rapidly, especially with the establishment of government agencies to help them, such as Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) and the National Corporation (Pernas).
Razak launched the “Green Book” on Dec 20, 1974, that among others, focused on land, plantation and livestock programmes to boost food production and increase the income of rural communities.
He also pursued a policy of nonalignment, by establishing diplomatic relations with communist China in 1974. Razak, however, died in office two years later in 1976.
Before his demise, he altered the course of Malaysian foreign policy by making a historic visit to China. He was laid to rest in the Heroes Mausoleum at Masjid Negara, Kuala Lumpur.
Razak’s vision for the nation was based on mutual understanding, respect, acceptance and moderation.
He valued the harmony between various ethnic groups and religions, and laid the foundation of social and economic stability in the country.
Razak, a leader who is remembered for his notable deeds, will always hold a special place in the nation’s history and in the hearts of its people.