By Syed Jaymal Zahiid (The Malaysian Insider, 8 February 2010)

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8 — Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Muhriz remembers the story of how the country’s first Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, had stopped “Umno ultras” from burning the Royal Lake Club here “for being too white.”

The Tunku had prevented its destruction by appointing himself as the club’s president, he said at the launch of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), a new think-tank set up by him to promote democratic ideals and rooted in the Tunku’s vision for the country. Today was chosen to launch Ideas to coincide with the Tunku’s birthday.

“And today, there are those who want to burn down places of worship and here Tunku’s words are visionary,” he said, referring to the note the Kedah prince once sent to the St Andrews Presbyterian Church on its fiftieth anniversary.

Tunku Zain Al-'Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz (top right) the founder of the new think-tank Ideas with his parents and brothers right after his father's installation as Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan

Tunku Zain said the former PM had written that “all men of goodwill and peace must fight against poverty. I know that St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is doing all it can to spread the message among Malaysians in all corners of this country and I have no doubt it will succeed. May I wish the church in the coming years all success and the blessing of God.”

“And when he officially opened a seminar of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism, he said: ‘One day I hope that a Muslim religious body might join in, as the objective of this organisation is very good and farsighted. It is the duty of each and everyone of us, living in this country, to ensure peace for all time’,” said the Negri Sembilan prince.

To him, the Tunku was a man and leader that believed in unity and a Malaysia for all.

He had wanted to steer Malaysia in that direction, towards building a foundation of liberty and justice when he fought for independence, said Zain.

But amid the “Allah” row and the raging communal politicking, Tunku Zain said the country “has taken the wrong direction”.

Tunku Zain said that the country is now plagued by patronage politics which makes “seeking for political office for the suicidal and the deranged.”

“It is clear that Tunku was a proponent of Malay unity, but it was unity in conjunction with Malayan and Malaysian unity. Today, so many who champion ‘Malay unity’ do so in opposition to perceived threats, for the purpose of intimidating others or for Machiavellian politics. I fear that this important distinction has been lost as the term has bandied about by those with divisive agenda,” he said.

Tunku Zain then said there have been many slogans employed by the Tunku’s successors, the latest being current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 1 Malaysia concept, an idea similar to the Tunku’s Malaysia for all.

“To my mind these are all mere reaffirmations of what was an articulate vision for the country from the moment Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. Despite these slogans, the standing of our institutions has withered. Tunku could never have imagined there to be such cynicism and distrust,” he said.

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