Tunku Abdul Rahman

Malaysias First and Greatest Prime Minister

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Timeline of Tunku Abdul Rahman

1903 Tunku Abdul Rahman was born February 8 in Alor Setar, Kedah, at the Istana Tiga Tingkat. He was the 20th child of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah and Che Manjalara, the Sultan's fourth wife.
1913 Taken by his eldest brother Tunku Yusuf to study at Debsurin School in Bangkok.

Returns to Kedah after Tunku Yusuf dies from pneumonia he caught in the jungles of Siam.

Sent to Penang Free School.

1919 Awarded a scholarship to further his studies at Cambridge University.

After a long journey from Singapore onboard a cargo ship, during which he contracted malaria, Tunku arrives in the village of Little Stukeley.

The villagers give him the nickname 'Bobby'.

1922 Accepted into Cambridge as an undergraduate to study law.
1925 Graduates from Cambridge with a pass degree in law and history.

After returning home to Kedah, he is sent back to Cambridge to obtain an Honors Degree in law.

He forms the Malay Society of Great Britain with other Malay students, taking the position of Honorary Secretary with Tunku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan as President.

1927 He meets Violet Coulson, the manager of the restaurant where many Malayan students had their meals and they start dating.
1930 In May, he sits for Part One of the Bar Exam, but failure in one paper causes him to fail the whole of Part One.

In January, he sets sail for Penang and is told off by Tunku Ibrahim for failing the Bar Exam.

He is appointed a Cadet in the Kedah Civil Service and was later sent to Kulim as Assistant District Officer.

In Kulim, he is married by the local Kadi to Chong Ah Yong who converts to Islam and takes the name Meriam.

1932 A year later, Khadijah, his first daughter is born.

The following year, Ahmad Nerang is born to the couple.

He passes the Cadet's Law Exam with flying colours on the first attempt.

He is promoted to District Officer of Padang Terap, an area hit by malaria.

Soon after arriving, Meriam contracts malaria.

She is killed by an English doctor's negligence, having injected her with undiluted quinine.

After the incident, and on his repeated insistence, the State Secretariat finally provides funds to drain the swamp around Kuala Nerang.

Upon hearing of Meriam's death, Violet sets sail for Singapore where she is later met by Tunku.

The couple are married by a Kadi in the mosque on Arab Street.

Violet is sent to Penang, not Kedah, to live because Tunku Ibrahim was known to be strongly opposed to mixed marriages.


Tunku Ibrahim dies unexpectedly and is succeeded as Regent by Tunku Mahmud who gave consent to the marriage.

He is transfered to the isolated post of District Officer Langkawi by the Secretary to the Government who disapproves of Tunku.

Despite opposition from the Secretary to the Government, he succeeds in collecting funds to develop Langkawi, building a jetty and several roads.

He finds the grave of Mahsuri, a local legend who was unjustly executed, and builds a proper grave for her. He convinces the locals that Mahsuri's curse is lifted.


The Council of State promotes Tunku to the District Officer of Sungei Petani, the second most important district in Kedah.

He becomes the most popular District Officer ever and becomes so busy he starts neglecting Violet, who misses Langkawi.


He opposes many decisions by the State Secretariat and is called to Alor Setar where he is threatened with disciplinary action.

He encourages local taxi drivers to reject an unjust scheme by the State Secretariat and helps them escape punishment.

After a complaint by the Commissioner of Police of Kedah, he is transfered with only a few hours notice to Kulim. A convoy of 40 grateful taxi drivers and their taxis escorts him to Kulim.

He applies for long leave to go to London where he and Violet amicably divorce.


He sits for the second time for the Bar Exam and manages to pass the Part One Exam.

As a result of Britain's declaration of war against Germany, he is recalled to Malaya and ordered to resume his post as District Officer in Kulim.

He marries Sharifah Rosdiah, the daughter of Syed Alwi Barakhbar of Alor Setar.


He is appointed Deputy Director of Air Raid Precautions for South Kedah.

In December when the Japanese invasion begins, he believes that his father, the Sultan of Kedah should be with his people and disagrees with the Regent's decision to evacuate him to Penang and then to Singapore. So he kidnaps the Sultan and keeps him in a safehouse in Sidim. In the meantime, the Japanese begin bombing Penang, thus Tunku had managed to prevent harm to the Sultan. The Regent later joins them in Sidim.

He forms a vigilante corp in Kulim to prevent looting and help refugees as the British withdraw.

December 14, he meets a Japanese Intelligence Officer who wants the sultan returned to Alor Setar.

December 17, Tunku, the Regent and the Sultan are escorted by the Japanese to Alor Setar.

1942 He remains a District Officer in Kulim under the Japanese Military Administration.

After failing to convince the Japanese to rescind an order to conscript villagers and turn rubber plantations into cotton fields, he is removed from his position as District Officer and transfered to Alor Setar.

The Siamese are given the civil administration of Kedah and among them is Tunku's boyhood friend, Travil.

Tunku is appointed the Superintendent of Education.

He has a shelter - Rumah Miskin - built for men who managed to escape from the Burma Railroad. And he fed them using donations and his own money.


As the Japanese surrender and the communists threaten the safety of the people, he forms another vigilante corp to maintain law and order in Kulim.

His fame spreads after his followers manage to free some hostages taken by the communists in Alor Janggus using only his name.

He gained even more fame after bringing the British and the Japanese together to prevent a coup in Alor Setar by the communists.

As the Malayan independence movement grows, he speaks out at rallies against the Malayan Union plan and promotes peaceful opposition.

He publicly criticises the decision by Sultan Badlishah, his half-brother, who eventually accedes control of Kedah to the British government under the Malayan Union plan.

1946 He applies for study leave and returns to London to resume his studies in the hope of entering private practice.

He revives the Malay Society of Great Britain and is elected president with Abdul Razak as vice president.

At 43 years old, he is accepted by Colonel Hart who will become his tutor toward the Bar Exams.


He studies hard and succeeds in passing all his law exams, while at home there is turmoil as the Federation of Malaya is formed from 11 Peninsular states with the Sultans as restored to their symbolic position as rulers.


He returns to his family in Penang in January.

He begins work at the Kedah Legal Service.

He is invited to be the chairman of the Kedah branch of UMNO, newly formed by Dato' Onn Bin Jaafar.

He is also invited by Attorney General Fosters-Sutton to join the Public Prosecutor office in Kuala Lumpur as a Deputy Public Prosecutor.


His hard work receives a favourable report and he is promoted to the President of the Selangor Court.

He is approached by Abdul Razak, who is now the deputy president of UMNO, to accept the nomination to be President of UMNO and succeed Onn Jaafar who himself is becoming unpopular because of his ideas about accepting non-Malays into the party.

On August 23, after Onn Jaafar resigns to start his multi-racial political party IMP, Tunku is elected as President of UMNO.

He closes the UMNO headquarters in Johor Bahru because the staff have conflicting loyalties to Onn Jaafar and opens a new one near his home in Telok Ayer Tawar.

He resigns from government service. The High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney (before he is assassinated by the communists in October), responds by this by generously appointing him to the Federal Legislative Council so that he can maintain an income.

He sells two of his houses in Penang and uses the funds to tour the State branches on UMNO and attend rallies.

His position as royalty and the brother of the Sultan of Kedah, along with his understanding of rural issues, endear him to a large portion of the UMNO membership.


The Selangor branch of MCA and UMNO in Kuala Lumpur agree to an alliance between UMNO and MCA to select candidates for the first ever municipal elections in Kuala Lumpur.

Tunku finds out about the alliance in Province Wellesley when he reads it in the newspapers.

Despite the objections of some UMNO leaders, he throws his support behind the Alliance.

The Alliance wins nine out of 12 seats while Onn Jaafar's IMP wins only two. The success is repeated in JB where the Alliance wins all seats.


Tunku holds the first Round Table Conference between MCA and UMNO at the Selangor Miner's Club in KL where the alliance is made permanent.

He tries to form a united front with IMP but talks break down when Onn Jaafar insists on disbanding the Alliance and forming a single party that admits all races. Tunku feels strongly that each race needs its own party to rally their respective communities together.

He and other Alliance leaders drafted a set of proposals which included the first national elections, which Onn as Home Affairs minister questioned.

He later turns down General Sir Gerald Templar's offer of a portfolio in the government on the basis that it would be a conflict of interest since UMNO is in many ways opposing the government.


After the proposals from the Alliance to have an elected majority are declined by the committee to study the possibility of elections in Malaya, he writes to Secretary of State Lyttleton in London for an interview to appeal, but is turned down.

Determined to meet the Secretary of State, he manages to scrounge up enough funds for a trip to London with TH Tan and Abdul Razak in his delegation. His Alliance partners, along with government leaders, criticise his unilateral mission.

In London, they meet with Lord Ogmore, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (1947-1950), who makes an appointment for them with Lyttleton the following month.

Despite impressive arguments, he fails to get an agreement from Lyttleton on an elected majority of at least three-fifths.

On returning home, he and the Alliance leaders deliver a resolution rejecting the proposals in the White Paper on Elections to Sir Templer and withdraw their members from participating in the government.

With the Alliance boycott on government participation, the Secretary of State in London pressures Sir Templer's successor, British High Commissioner MacGillivray, to consult with the rulers on the topic of holding elections.

Tunku and the Alliance leaders meet with the Sultan of Johor to win him over before MacGillivray can meet the rulers.

After getting a signed assurance from MacGillivray that he accepts the Alliance's views and will seek confirmation from Lyttleton, Tunku calls off the boycott.

He, HS Lee and Tan Cheng Lock start touring Malaya presenting a united front to bring the message of unity in all communities to every corner of the country, calling on the ruler in each state to seek his support.

They hold the first National Council meeting and Tunku is elected the leader of the Alliance.

In the first two state elections in Johor and Trengganu, he and the Alliance win both states while Onn's newly formed Parti Negara did not capture a single seat.

He is invited to serve on the Federation War Executive Committee which deals with domestic terrorism during the Emergency.


Tunku rejects demands from Malay racialists to field a total Malay front when the government announces the first Federal Legislative Council elections to be held on July 27. At the next UMNO Assembly, he calls for "a policy of racial unselfishness".

He wins over the Malayan Indian Congress from their support of Parti Negara.

He fields 52 candidates, one for each constituency. 35 Malays, 15 Chinese and 2 Indians. Finally bowing to pressure from the racialists, Onn Jaafar fields only one non-Malay from his multiracial Parti Negara.

He goes on a feverish tour of the country, shoring up support for the Alliance especially for the Chinese candidates, leaving his own constituency of Kuala Muda in Kedah to the last week.

He wins his seat with a massive majority of 20,000 votes. Meanwhile, Onn Jaafar loses his race to Sulaiman bin Dato' Abdul Rahman, 5,943 to 2,802 - getting less than a third of the vote. The Alliance captures a total of 51 out of 52 seats with the Pan Malayan Islamic Party (the precursor to PAS) winning the final one.

He hands over a list of 11 Cabinet Ministers to MacGillivray at the King's House on July 31. 6 Malays, 3 Chinese and 2 Indians.

As the Leader of the Alliance, he becomes Malaya's first Chief Minister and enters his office for the first time on August 1.

Despite being Malaya's first Chief Minister, he discovers to his annoyance the British government has not considered any residence or car for him. Many of his colleagues find no offices have been allocated for them either. He finally accepts a delapidated residence at 1 Hose Road. This poor experience with the colonialists makes him vow "to win our freedom in half the time - two years, not four".

August 9, he uses his first broadcast to the nation as Chief Minister to highlight his determination to seek independence from Britain without bloodshed and ending the Emergency. He also outlines the agenda of each of his government's ministries.

He meets Alan Lennox-Boyd, the new Secretary of State, who agrees to hold constitutional talks in London in January the following year, provided the rulers were represented.

He offers amnesty to the communists to persuade them to stop their war which was draining public funds.

In December, Tunku and the Chief Minister of Singapore meet Ching Peng in Baling, near the Siamese border, to discuss terms of the amnesty. When the communists refuse to lay down their arms and disband, even if Malaya were to gain independence, he realises the communists cannot be negotiated with.

He immediately declares their amnesty will be over on February 8 the following year when the Merdeka agreement would be signed.


Together with 4 representatives from the Sultans, Tunku leads the men of the Merdeka Mission into Lancaster House in London on January 16.

February 8, on his 53rd birthday, he signs the Merdeka agreement with Secretary of State Lennox-Boyd.

Having been "deceived" one too many times, on April 2, he announces over Radio Malaysia that all negotiations with the communists are now closed and that he "takes great pleasure in rejecting" Chen Tian's letter to reopen talks.

In June, Tunku and the Alliance Council submit a detailed memorandum of recommendations to the Reid Commission that was formed by the Secretary of State to draft Malaya's first constitution. It includes UMNO's acceptance of jus soli for those born after Merdeka and MCA/MIC's acceptance of the special position of the Malays and Malay as the national language.

30 August, he announces that the Security Forces have killed Yuong Kuo whom he considers the brains behind Chin Peng. He expects this to be the decisive blow against the MCP and that the Emergency "will come to a speedy end".

26 December, in a speech over the BBC London after talks with Lennox-Boyd on a mutual defence treaty, he declares that Malaya "will soon become an independent State".


After the Reid Report is published, MacGillivray forms a working committee to prepare the final recommendations to the British Government. Tunku finally persuades MCA leaders to agree to omit Jus Soli from the list, on condition that it is reconsidered after independence.

He takes personal interest in the creation of the national anthem and invites musicians home and abroad to compose one. Finally he decides to use Terang Bulan as the basis for the anthem and calls it Negaraku.

He oversees the construction of Stadium Merdeka as the place where the independence ceremony will be held.

10 July, he presents the final constitution to the Federal Legislative Council.

At midnight on August 30, along with other Alliance leaders, he stands at the flagpole of Dataran Merdeka when the Union Jack is lowered and the new Federation Flag is raised. The band plays God Save the Queen followed by Negaraku.

At the Independence Ceremony, he receives the Constitutional Instrument from Prince Henry Duke of Gloucester then reads aloud the Proclamation of Independence. He then raises his right arm and shouts Merdeka! to which the crowd responds Merdeka!



Yu Chuan Choon. Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: MPH Group Publishing, 2009.

Gale, Dr Bruce, ed. Malaysia: the road to independence. Pelanduk Publications: Subang Jaya, Malaysia. 2nd printing 2007.

Sheppard, Mubin. Tunku: His life and times, the authorized biography. Pelanduk Publications: Subang Jaya, Malaysia. 2nd printing 2007.



This is an ongoing collection of writings about Tunku Abdul Rahman or writings by him. For more information, contact admin@tunkuabdulrahman.com.