Next week, on 8 February, will be the 115th birthday of Almarhum Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj.
Almarhum Tunku was the seventh son of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Tunku’s mother is Che Menjalara, the daughter of Luang Naraborirak from Thailand.
He was educated in Alor Star, Bangkok and Penang, before graduating from Cambridge University in 1925. He then completed his legal training in 1949.
The Tunku successfully led the series of negotiations that resulted in our independence from the United Kingdom. For that, Almarhum will forever be known as our Bapa Kemerdekaan.
On 31 August 1957 Almarhum Tunku read out his Proclamation of Independence. The Proclamation is the basis and the principles behind the founding of our nation.
In the Proclamation, Almarhum Tunku said that our nation shall “be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.
Liberty and justice. These are the principles that must guide our actions and policies.
In 1963, the Tunku brought four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – into one, to form Malaysia. Rightfully, that made him our Bapa Malaysia too.
On the day that Malaysia was formed, rather than reading out a different statement, the Tunku opted for the same Proclamation, turning what was once called the Proclamation of Independence into the Proclamation of Malaysia.
During his premiership, of course he made his fair share of mistakes. There were actions of his that many of us today would consider as far short of the ideal. But compared to many of his successors, on balance, many Malaysians today are longing for the environment fostered by the Tunku’s administration.
The Tunku turned the principles of liberty and justice into actual policies, all aimed at ensuring the welfare and happiness of his people. He was determined to ensure every single citizen of the country enjoys the liberty and justice equally, regardless of their race and religion.
One thing for sure, his vision of how to unite the country was the correct one. He did not put one group above the other because he knew very well that a happy country can only exist if the citizens feel equal.
Sadly this vision of equal treatment was robbed away from us soon after the Tunku’s departure from office. Until today we still suffer the consequences from divisive ethnic-based social-engineering. The damage is so great, it doesn’t seem likely that the situation can be fixed any time soon.
When Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, and I decided to start the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), we made a conscious decision to dedicate our work to injecting the Tunku’s ideals into all facets of public policy.
We launched IDEAS on 8 February 2010, at an event that was also designed to celebrate the Tunku’s birthday. Therefore next week will also be IDEAS’s eighth anniversary.
The last eight years has been challenging but fulfilling. The nature of an independent think tank is not widely understood in Malaysia, where labels of either being pro-government or pro-opposition are thrown around too easily. When we say that we believe in principles rather than partisanship, many people became confused because we do not fall into their traditional labels.
The culture of only bad news can become news does not help either. Our criticisms get picked up by the media more frequently than our praises. I have now become used to politicians and policymakers from both sides saying that we only criticise them and we never give them credit. This wrong perception can only be expected because the credits that we give are hardly covered.
As far as challenges go, last year was by far the most challenging one. We were very close to shutting down in August because of a major cashflow crisis after two large funders suddenly pulled out. I had to go cup-in-hand to various people begging for money to keep us alive. Thanks to two donors, one from the United Kingdom and another from Johor Bharu, we scraped through the crisis.
Moving ahead, our quest to translate the Tunku’s vision into policy proposals will continue. In an increasingly divided Malaysia, we will stay true to the unifying vision of the Tunku. There are far too many people who, in private, complain like mad but quickly run away from speaking up publicly even though they know they can change the country’s course towards the better. I promised my team at IDEAS that we will never become like them. Hopefully history will show that I keep my words.
Meanwhile, let us spend this coming few days remembering the Tunku for the great Malaysian that he was and for his vision of liberty and justice. May his ideals of liberty and justice live forever. Alfatihah.
First published for Thinking Liberally, The Star, 16 January 2018