Tunku Abdul Rahman Biography

(1st Prime Minister of Malaysia)

Birthday: February 8, 1903 (Aquarius)

Born In: Alor Setar, Malaysia

Tunku Abdul Rahman was the first prime minister of Malaysia, in office from 1957 to 1970. Before becoming the prime minister, he served as the first chief minister of the Federation of Malaya. One of the many children of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, Tunku had a privileged upbringing. He studied at Cambridge University but wasn’t able to meet his family’s expectations of becoming a lawyer for several years. He began his career as a civil servant and succeeded to the throne of Negri Sembilan following the death of his father. He rose in political prominence in the ensuing years and became the chief minister of the Federation of Malaya. He played a key role in Malaysia’s independence process and was appointed the first prime minister of the newly-independent country. He dominated Malaysian politics for the next decade despite facing many political challenges. His performance during the race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969 was criticized and he was forced to resign. He is widely regarded as Malaysia's "founding father" and is hailed for his pivotal leadership role in the formation of Malaysia. He was married thrice and had seven children. Besides politics, he was an avid sportsman who supported many sporting events.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah

Died At Age: 87


Spouse/Ex-: Meriam Chong (1933–1935), Sharifah Rodziah Alwi Barakbah (1939–1990), Violet Coulson (1935–1946)

father: Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah

mother: Cik Menjalara

siblings: Tunku Mahmud

children: Suleiman Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tunku Ahmad Nerang, Tunku Faridah, Tunku Khadijah, Tunku Mariam, Tunku Mastura, Tunku Noor Hayati

Born Country: Malaysia

Prime Ministers Political Leaders

political ideology: United Malays National Organisation (1946–1971)

Died on: December 6, 1990

place of death: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Notable Alumni: St Catharine's College, Cambridge

More Facts

education: St Catharine's College, Cambridge

Childhood & Early Life

Tunku Abdul Rahman was born on 8 February 1903, in Kedah, as one of the 45 children of Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. His father was the 26th ruler of the Kedah Sultanate. His mother, Che Menjelara (Nueang Nandanagara), was a Thai woman. She was the sixth wife of the sultan.

Cholera and malaria epidemics were very common during that era and Tunku lost at least three of his siblings to the diseases. He also suffered from ill-health as a young boy.

He studied at the government English school, Sultan Abdul Hamid College, before going to Debsirin School in Bangkok. He later went to St Catharine's College, one of the colleges at Cambridge University, where he studied law and history.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman returned to Kedah after completing his studies and was appointed a cadet in the Kedah Civil Service in 1931. After a few years, he was made an assistant district officer in Kulim.

He was eventually promoted to the position of district officer of Padang Terap. In this role, he was pivotal in draining the swampy areas where disease-causing mosquitoes bred and helped control the spread of malaria in the region.

During World War II, he was made the deputy director of Air Raid Precautions for South Kedah. The Japanese army began to invade Kedah in 1941, and Tunku Abdul Rahman was soon removed from his position of authority.

He later moved to England to further his legal studies. He cleared all his law exams and sailed back to Malaya in 1949. He now took over the chairmanship of the Kedah branch of UMNO and took up a post in the Federal Secretariat.

He became the 1st chief minister of Malaya in August 1955 and held this post for the next two years. In this position, he offered amnesty to the communist revolutionaries involved in the Emergency. However, he later withdrew his offer.

He supervised the country’s independence process, and after the declaration of independence from Great Britain on 31 August 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman became Malaya's first prime minister. He played an active role in the political transformation of the country in the ensuing years.

He was pivotal in the formation of Malaysia. He has been credited for incorporating the Federation of Malaya, British North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore into the state of Malaysia in 1963. He was then formally restyled as prime minister of Malaysia.

He eventually decided that Singapore should be removed from the union of Malaysia. In 1965, the Independence of Singapore Agreement 1965 was implemented and Singapore was declared an independent nation.

After dominating Malaysian politics for well over a decade, his popularity started declining. Some political leaders from his own party questioned his leadership during the 13 May 1969 racial riots in Kuala Lumpur, following which an emergency had to be declared.

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In 1970, he was forced to resign as prime minister and was succeeded by Abdul Razak. He then resigned from UMNO's presidency in 1971, following opposition by upcoming young politicians Mahathir Mohamad and Musa Hitam.

Religious Involvements

Tunku Abdul Rahman was a practicing Muslim and made Islam the religion of the federation. He established the Islamic Welfare Organization (PERKIM) in 1960 to help Muslim converts transition into their new religious identity. He was the president of PERKIM for several years.

He was the first secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and Malaysia is one of the founder members of the same.

He believed that Malaysia, as a nation with a multi-racial population with various religious beliefs, could function as a secular state with Islam as the official religion.

Involvement in Sports

Tunku Abdul Rahman was passionate about sports and served as the vice president of the Kedah Football Association in the late 1930s. Later on, he became president of the Football Association of Malaysia, a post he held for two decades.

As the prime minister, he initiated many sporting events, including the international football tournament, the Pestabola Merdeka (Independence Football Festival).

He loved horse racing as well and often patronized the Selangor Turf Club. He was a co-owner of the champion racehorse Think Big.

Major Work

Tunku Abdul Rahman’s biggest achievement was the formation of Malaysia. In 1961, he proposed a federation comprising Malaya, Sabah, Singapore, Brunei, and Sarawak at the Foreign Correspondents Association of Southeast Asia. In 1963, all these states except Brunei were incorporated to form Malaysia.

Family & Personal Life

Tunku Abdul Rahman first married Meriam Chong, the daughter of his friend, Chong Ah Yong, a Thai Chinese. They had two children. His wife died of malaria shortly after their second baby was born.

He later married Violet Coulson, an English woman who managed a restaurant in London. He had first met her when he was a student in London. The couple divorced in 1947.

His third marriage was to Sharifah Rodziah Syed Alwi Barakbah. He adopted four children with her.

Tunku Abdul Rahman died of natural causes on 6 December 1990. He was 87. 

See the events in life of Tunku Abdul Rahman in Chronological Order

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