As commemoration for Tunku's birthday centennial, DAP calls on Cabinet to institute Tunku Prize as prestigious annual international awards comparable to Nobel Prize awards for distinguished achievements in various fields of human endeavour in the 21st century

Tunku Centennial Remembrance Night organized by DAP
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Friday): We are gathered here tonight to honour the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Bapa Malaysia and Bapa Kemederkaan, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj on the occasion of his birthday centenary.

Eighteen years ago, on August 30, 1985, DAP honoured Tunku for his unique contribution and services to the country.on the occasion of the 28th National Day celebrations. For the occasion, we produced a souvenir publication with contributions from veteran opposition parliamentarian, the late Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, and two other distinguished Malaysians who are with us tonight, Datuk P. G. Lim and Dr. Chandra Muzaffar.

This was what I said on the occasion held at Dewan Hang Tuah in Malacca with Tunku as the guest-of-honour 18 years ago:

"This must be the first time that the Tunku is being honoured by an Opposition party. The signal honour is ours.

"The DAP and the Tunku had our differences, but these do not detract from the Tunku's greatness as Father of Independence, the main spirit behind our Constitution and system of parliamentary democracy, and his contribution to nation-building.

"Although Tunku retired as the nation's first Prime Minister in 1971, his influence and stature as Bapa Malaysia had grown with each passing year, and he has become a national institution and asset as the father-figure for all Malaysians.

"Through his weekly newspaper columns, the Tunku has exercised enormous influence over political and national developments in the last decade, and helped to solve or defuse many a controversial and touchy situation.

"We thank the Tunku for graciously agreeing to be present today to give us the privilege to honour him for his role as Bapa Malaysia, bringing Independence to the nation, laying the framework of parliamentary democracy, building unity out of Malaysian diversity, and after his retirement from active politics, his continuing influence over the nation's destiny as the Elder Statesman in Malaysia."

The 28th National Day in 1985 was celebrated in the midst of grave national concerns expressed by all leaders about the gravity of the problem of racial polarization in Malaysia, which made me offer a proposal at the end of my speech - that Tunku, who was then 82, should head a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the problems of national unity in Malaysia, "to strengthen the inner applications of Malaysian nationalism and prepare Malaysia to face the 21st century in 15 years' time".

This was the same theme that I wrote to Tunku after my first election as Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka 34 years ago, from my detention cell in Muar on 14th August 1969 in the first month of my formal incarceration under the Internal Security Act, although Tunku's premiership was beginning to be more and more titular:

"I sincerely appeal to you and the Government that at this moment of trial for our nation, we must all rise above party politics and think only of the long-term national interests.

"I do not believe, for instance, that it is in the national interest to disregard the contribution the Democratic Action Party, the leading opposition party in the Dewan Rakyat, can make in the forging of national unity and consciousness.

"From the very outset of the May 13 disturbances, the DAP had offered its help to restore peace and harmony. I myself on 17th May 1969 had occasion to make a similar offer and pledge on behalf of my party at a press conference in Singapore, on the eve of my return to the Malaysian capital from Sabah and arrest."

I went on to make "proposals which, in my view, can go a long way to ensure communal harmony and goodwill and the development of a Malaysian consciousness and identity, transcending racial ties and affinities", which included:

"The establishment of an all-party, all-races Royal Commission of Enquiry to probe into the entire gamut of racial problems in Malaysia, with a view to seek long-term solutions. This Commission should also comprise eminent Malaysians from different professions."

The problem of racial polarization, national unity and nation-building are still very much with us, 47 years after Merdeka, and this is why when Parliament meets on Monday, one of its important agenda is the government's proposal for a National Service programme to foster national integration and patriotism.

I have to resist the great temptation to delve into this subject of nation-building, which was always very close to Tunku's heart in his lifetime, and to discuss and question how a six-month national service programme for the 500,000 18-year olds, which will cost RM6 billion annually, is going to foster national unity when there are more and more instances of teachers, youth leaders and government agencies showing contempt for the sensitivities of a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, as illustrated by racial slurs by some teachers directed at students from a minority group, such as the incident at SRK Seksyen Satu, Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, or the new ruling of the Johor Baru City Council requiring a written approval from Muslim neighbours before seeking a dog licence.

I shall resist such a temptation, although Tunku would have approved if I had succumbed to it.

In any other country, the birthday centenary of the father of the nation would be an important and grand affair with meaningful commemorative events up and down the country by both the government and the civil society in honour of his memory, contribution and legacy.

In Malaysia however, the government nearly forgot about Tunku's birthday centenary until the DAP publicly reminded the Cabinet about it a month before the anniversary proper on February 8, suggesting that the government spearhead a month-long celebration of Tunku's birthday centenary.

This led to a hurried and last-minute decision by the government to go through the formality of celebrating the Tunku's birthday centenary without any serious intention of initiating a series of meaningful nation-wide commemoration events in honour of Tunku's memory, contribution and legacy.

Even Pos Malaysia's commemorative postage stamp for Tunku's centennial was only ready this Monday.

Tunku's birthday centenary should be properly commemorated by the nation, not just for a month but for a whole year, where eminent and distinguished Malaysians can share their memories and thoughts on Tunku's contributions and legacy to the Malaysian people and nation and what lessons they hold for the future of Malaysia.

Although Tunku stepped down as Prime Minister 32 years, his influence continued to writ large in all aspects of Malaysian life, whether on nation-building, inter-religious understanding and harmony, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, contemporary concerns on issues like the Internal Security Act, press freedom and corruption, whether because of his humanity, compassion or humility.

I will not deal individually with these different facets of Tunku's contributions and legacy which I am sure would be ably expounded by members of the distinguished panel tonight.

As a befitting commemoration for Tunku's birthday centennial, DAP calls on the Cabinet to institute a Tunku Prize as prestigious annual international awards comparable to Nobel Prize awards for distinguished achievements in various fields of human endeavour in the 21st century - which will be a credit to Tunku and the nation.

The country is said to have spent from RM200 million to RM1 billion for the recently 13th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Kuala Lumpur. The wisdom of expenditure of such vast sums of money is highly debatable especially as NAM has not established its relevance in the new age. RM100 million or RM200 million spent for establishing the Tunku Prize to commemorate Tunku's birthday centennial and put Malaysia on the world map as an annual measuring rod of distinguished global human achievements would undoubtedly be a most deserving commitment.

The recent issue of Malaysian Business listed the 40 richest Malaysians for the year, whose roster included many billionaires.

A joint government-private sector effort to found the Tunku Prize awards, to be more prestigious than the Magsaysay Awards and comparable to the Nobel Prize awards, should not be beyond the capability of Malaysians.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman