Leadership was suddenly thrust upon TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN in 1951 at the age of 48. Assuming a task no prominent politician wanted, he became president of the United Malays National Organization when it verged on fragmenting over extension of equal membership rights to all races. Close friends had sensed his political acumen and observed the ability to find common ground regardless of color or calling that would make this son of a Sultan of Kedah a nation-builder and, in six years, Bapa Merdeka, or Father of Malayan Independence.
Malaya's progress toward nationhood then was mired in divisive factionalism. Eleven states, some feudal and others modern, held Southeast Asia's least homogenous mixture of races, religions, languages and cultural groups. Roughly 50 percent Malays, 37 percent Chinese, 11 percent Indian, Pakistani and Ceylonese and the remainder miscellaneous minorities, each community in itself was a composite, with Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus speaking different dialects and holding to their ancestral customs. Most at odds were the Malays, sometimes arrogantly possessive of their birthright, and Chinese, with superior economic and educational resources they could use for gaining political control. A communist-led insurrection compounded these differences.
ABDUL RAHMAN and other foresighted leaders determined to avoid violent upheavals comparable to Indonesia's war of independence and the communal strife following India's partition. They resolved that independence must be achieved by constitutional means, agreed on the absolute necessity for interracial cooperation and chose to promote a new "Malayan" citizenship.
The TUNKU's personal message was one of sincerity, generosity and firm common sense. Meeting supporters and adversaries alike in a forthright manner that was highly persuasive, he first clarified the issues and re-formed the UMNO. He then forged an Alliance with the Malayan Chinese Association and the Malayan Indian Congress, which won a sweeping victory at the polls in 1955. The nine hereditary rulers next were convinced they could retain their rights and privileges with independence. These evidences of political viability induced Great Britain to grant independence on August 31, 1957, and TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN became Malaya's first Prime Minister.
Re-elected in 1959, he announced that his chief purpose for the next five years would be cementing national unity. In two election campaigns, moving from city to kampong throughout the country, he has pleaded, persuaded and sold his idea of communal harmony. Keenly conscious of his people's needs, he has made rural development a major function of a Government notable for its integrity. Though some guerrillas remain in the jungle, independence, a flourishing economy with one of the highest per capita incomes in Asia and communal cooperation have curbed rebel appeal, and, in July 1960, the Emergency declared 12 years earlier was officially ended.
In electing His Excellency, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA AL-HAJ, Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, to the 1960 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his guidance of a multiracial society through its constitutional struggle for independence, toward communal alliance and national identity. Emerging as a symbol of racial accord, the TUNKU has brought the communities of Malaya into a working partnership based on mutual rights and responsibilities and fostered an understanding, rare in newly independent nations, that the future is best insured with tolerance and goodwill among one's fellowmen.
I have come on behalf of my father, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA, the Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, to receive the high honor of an Award for Community Leadership which the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation is so generously bestowing upon him.
My father has asked me to express his sincere thanks and his deep appreciation for your having singled him out as one of the recipients for award in the year 1960.
He feels that recognition of his services in the cause of humanity is a tribute not to him alone but also to his colleagues and to the people of Malaya, for it is they who have made him worthy of your consideration.
It was the people of Malaya who made the achievement of Malayan Independence possible. It is the people of Malaya who have worked to build up goodwill and understanding between all the diverse races in our country. And it is the people of Malaya again who have helped my father to establish a contented, happy and prosperous state in the Federation of Malaya.
His burden has been made very much lighter through the willing and ready cooperation he has received from the Malayan people, irrespective of their race, creed or color. Through the help of the people also, the security forces of the Federation have been able to crush the Communist uprising which lasted for 12 long years.
On the 31st of July this year, just one month ago, the Government of the Federation of Malaya, was able to declare that the Emergency was over at last, and that it could now remove all the Emergency Regulations which had restricted the freedom of the people during these years of trial.
Today the people of Malaya are enjoying greater prosperity, greater peace of mind, and greater harmony than they have ever enjoyed before. The honor which you so thoughtfully give to my father in the form of a Ramon Magsaysay Award is most truly shared by all the people of my country.
My father has sent me, being his closest kin and his only son, to come to Manila to receive the Award. Nothing would have pleased him better than to have been able to come here himself, but it so happens that this birthday anniversary of the late and great Ramon Magsaysay also falls on the day when the whole of Malaya celebrates national independence, today being the third anniversary of the great event. You will, I am sure, readily understand that because of this coincidence he was not himself able to make the journey. He has asked me to renew once again the feelings of goodwill and friendship which the people of Malaya have for the people of the Philippines. He also asks me to convey to the people of the Philippines his good wishes for the speedy recovery of President Garcia, whom he understands is not too well, and whose illness has caused a postponement of his visit to Malaya. The Malayan people had looked forward to his visit with great anticipation, and my father hopes that the opportunity for him to do so will soon occur.
If I can speak for myself I would like to say also both as a Malayan and as my father's son it is a great honor for me to represent him on this momentous day. Lastly I particularly wish to thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for the gracious hospitality and the warm welcome they have so cordially extended to me in Manila. This is the first time I have visited your country, of which I have heard so much, and may I say I have enjoyed every moment of my stay.
On behalf of my father and myself I thank you once again.