A Malayan governmental figure since graduating from college, Tunku Abdul Rahman became his country’s first prime minister and foreign minister after it gained its independence, continuing in that post when the federation of Malaysia was formed in 1963.
Tunku Abdul Rahman was born February 8, 1903, in Alor Setar, Kedah, in Malaya, a country then under British control. He was the twentieth child of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah and Che Manjalara, the sultan’s fourth wife. In 1913, he went to study at Debsurin School in Bangkok, and in 1919, he was awarded a scholarship to further his studies at Cambridge University. After a lengthy trip from Singapore aboard a cargo ship, during which he contracted malaria, Tunku disembarked in the village of Little Stukeley, England. He graduated from Cambridge in 1925 and returned in 1926 for an honors degree in law. He sat for the bar exam in 1930 but failed to complete a section of the test and therefore did not pass on this first try.
In 1931, Tunku Abdul Rahman received an appointment as a cadet to the Kedah civil service and was later an assistant district officer in Kulim. In 1933, he passed the cadet's law exam on his first attempt, and finally, in 1939, he retook the English bar exam he had failed nine years before and passed. In 1949, he was called to the bar and was then named deputy public prosecutor in the Malayan Federal Legal Department, a position he left in 1951 to embark upon a political career.
A Life In Politics
Abdul Rahman became president of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and spearheaded the alliance between the UMNO and the Malayan Chinese Association (1951) and that of the UMNO and the Malayan Indian Congress (1955). His Alliance Party won a sweeping majority in the election of 1955, and Abdul Rahman became the first chief minister of Malaya. In August, he used his first broadcast as chief minister to declare his determination in seeking independence from Britain without bloodshed.
In January 1956, Abdul Rahman led a mission to London to negotiate for Malayan independence, in the end securing immediate self-government for Malaya and the promise of independence by August 1957. That promise was kept, and Abdul Rahman became independent Malaya’s first prime minister (a post he would retain when the Federation of Malaysia, which consolidated the countries of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak under one umbrella, was formed in 1963). At midnight on August 30, he stood at the flagpole in Merdeka Square, in Kuala Lumpur, when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and the new Federation flag was raised.
In September 1970, with his power slipping and Singapore gone from the Federation for five years, Abdul Rahman relinquished his post as prime minister. He died in 1990 at the age of 87.
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