Can Najib become Tun Razak’s son?


So, yes, Tun Razak, my father, and many Malays of that time, were very different from the Malays of today. And this is something that I would like to tell Najib. I try as much as I can to be my father’s son. But it is not going to be easy to be your father’s son if your father was Tun Razak.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Today is the 40th anniversary of Tun Abdul Razak Hussein’s death. Tun Razak died age 53 and I would consider his sons, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak amongst them, very fortunate because both my parents died in the mid-40s. So at least they enjoyed a few more years with their father than I did.

When you talk to any MCKK Old Boy and ask them whom they consider as the most illustrious of the Old Boys, nine out of ten (if not all ten) would mention the name Tun Razak.

There are actually hundreds of illustrious Old Boys. At one time about half the Cabinet comprised of Old Boys. But on a list of the top 100 illustrious old boys Tun Razak without a doubt heads that list.

And that sort of makes most Old Boys a bit sentimental about Najib, the son of the most illustrious Old Boy who followed in his father’s footsteps. And for me it is a double dose of sentimentality because Tun Razak was also Bugis and we Bugis are fiercely clannish about our ‘race’.

But we Bugis are not the only ones like that. Sabahans, Sarawakians, Kelantanese, Johoreans, etc., are the same. The Scots, Welsh, Irish, and so on, are fiercely clannish to the point of being parochial as well. In fact, you may be surprised to know that the Chinese are probably the worst of the lot. Try fielding an English-educated Chinese candidate in a Hakka area and see what happens if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, that is not the point of my article. I said that many MCKK Old Boys are a bit sentimental about Najib because he is the son of the most illustrious Old Boy who followed in his father’s footsteps — mainly to become the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

However, that is not enough because Tun Razak was more than just a Prime Minister. He was a monumental Prime Minister. And those are not easy footsteps to follow.

Tun Razak was probably what today we would call ‘a Towering Malay’. But Tun Razak was not the only Towering Malay of his generation, the post-WWII or pre-Merdeka generation Malays. There were many Malays like that, my father being one of them.

I have this old photograph of the Malays in London in 1951. And it is like a whose-who list. All came back to Malaya around the time of Merdeka to become the leaders in politics, business, the civil service, police, military, etc.

They shaped the country and made Malaysia into what it is today. (The good parts, of course. The bad parts came later after people like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad took over).

Many countries gained independence after WWII but most went into chaos. Malaya was probably one of the few countries that saw prosperity and not conflict after independence. And that was no coincidence. It was because of our leaders of that time — Malays, Chinese and Indians included.

I remember once after my father became a Director of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) when the Chinese suppliers sent dozens of hampers to our house for Hari Raya. When my father came home from work he told our driver to put them all into the car and send them back with instructions to never do that again or else they would be struck off the list of suppliers.

I wanted a guitar and my father brought me to a small Chinese shop in Kelang. We used to live in Kelang and my father would select these small Chinese shops as suppliers. He even got his suits made in a small Chinese one-man tailor shop in a back lane behind the Kelang bus stop.

Anyway, the Chinese chap did not want to charge for the guitar. He wanted to give it to me as a present. My father refused to accept it and insisted on paying or else he would not buy it. The Chinese chap was so embarrassed when he took the money.

Most successful people of that time owned a Mercedes Benz. Our family owned a small Ford. And even though we had a chauffer, I had to cycle to school and my father drove the car while the driver sat in the passenger’s seat. Why the hell my father employed a driver is still a mystery until today.

In fact, as a Director, my father was entitled to a company car but he never used it. He used his own car and drove the car himself on top of that.

Tun Razak’s children would probably remember that their late father was sort of like that. They were ‘irritatingly too clean’. And it upset us kids to see all those wonderful Hari Raya hampers being returned to sender when we could instead be feasting a week on stuff we never had the pleasure of tasting before.

I mean, even our groceries had a quota. We enjoyed F&N orange cordial but if we over-drank and finished the week’s quota too fast then we would need to wait till next week to be able to drink orange again. In the meantime we had to drink plain water.

The Malays of that generation were also fiercely nationalistic. But that does not mean they were racists. You can be a nationalist without being a racist. It was a balance.

The Malays of that time were also ‘balanced’ when it came to religion. Most Malays of that generation and of that social class had bars in their houses, as did we, of course. And it was well stocked, mind you. But the bar would open only for special occasions, such as Hari Raya or when there was a party. It was mainly for social drinking and not drinking to get drunk.

In fact, I experienced my first beer during the Lever Brothers annual dinner. I think I was maybe 16 then when my father bought me my first beer. It would have been a weird sight today to see a Malay father and his teenage son drinking at the same table, and the beer bought by his father.

When I went out for my first date with my wife, Marina (who was 14 and I 17), my father chauffeured us and Marina and I sat in the back seat. When it was time to send Marina home my father stopped the car on the corner (not in front of her house) and told me to walk her to the door.

So we both got out of the car as my father waited around the corner and on reaching her house I gave Marina her first kiss before we said goodnight. Then I understood why my father did not want to stop in front of the house. I would not have been able to give Marina a good night kiss otherwise.

So, yes, Tun Razak, my father, and many Malays of that time, were very different from the Malays of today. And this is something that I would like to tell Najib. I try as much as I can to be my father’s son. But it is not going to be easy to be your father’s son if your father was Tun Razak.

And, to me, this is the greatest challenge that Najib has to face. I was proud of my father. All those who knew my father tell me that they regard my father as one of the greatest persons they had ever known.

Sure, when I was in business I succeeded in many things. My critics say I succeeded because I was a member of the royal family or because of the NEP. If not I would not have been able to do all the things I did.

That is not quite true. I succeeded because of my father. When people (who were strangers to me) I met (I am talking about the 1970s and 1980s, of course, when my father’s contemporaries were still around) found out that I was the son of Raja Kamarudin bin Raja Sir Tun Uda, they helped me — not because they knew me but because they had tremendous respect for my father (who by then had died).

What would my father say about me today were he still alive? I really don’t know. But I would like to believe that my father would stand proud and tell everyone, “That is my son, a chip of the old block.” And that, to me, is worth more than all the tea in China, as the English would say.

Anyway, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak wanted my father to join Umno and enter politics. And if he had he would have been one of the Merdeka era cabinet ministers (he was, after all, a Barrister from Lincoln’s Inn). But he did not want to join Umno or become a politician because he wanted to lead a ‘clean’ life. And in 1969, three years before he died, my father voted for Gerakan and not for the Alliance Party. And he proudly told everyone about it. And that was because although he was a Malay nationalist he also believed in a multi-racial Malaysia.