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Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah

Before you continue reading this interview, we’d like to first and foremost thank Tengku Razaleigh for the opportunity to meet him despite this ongoing Covid-19 season. We were blown away by his gestures and gentleman-like etiquette, and we honour him for his leadership and perseverance for serving our country. We arranged to have this interview with him solely because it made sense if we wanted to know some potentially missing and/or interesting factors of what happened in the formation of Malaysia. We thought of asking people who were present then, and Tengku was one of them.


We also would like to state that we are not in any political brackets of any movement, but we are just curious to question and learn what really went down back then.

For those who may not know, Yang Berhormat Mulia Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh bin Tengku Mohd Hamzah is a Malaysian veteran politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Gua Musang from the state of Kelantan. He was born on 13 April 1937. He is dubbed the Father of Malaysia's Economy for playing a pivotal role in establishing and implementing key foundations and policies in Malaysia's economy. A descendant of Malay royalty, he is a great-uncle of the current Sultan of Kelantan. "Tengku" is a hereditary royal Malay title, equivalent to "Prince/ss." He was the Minister of Finance (1976–1984), Minister of International Trade and Industry (1984–1987), former chairman of Asian Development Bank, former chairman of Islamic Development Bank, founding Chairman and Chief Executive of Malaysian oil company, PETRONAS, and chairman of the 33rd Board of Governors of the World Bank and IMF. He is now the longest serving member of parliament in Malaysia. His popularity has earned him nicknames such as "The People's Prince" and "Ku Kita" (Our Tengku). He is affectionately known as 'Ku Li', derived from the last syllables of Tengku Razaleigh; a common custom in the Kelantan dialect. Here are some additional information that many may not know about Tengku Razaleigh: (Special thanks to Zima for sending us all this information!)

  • Born 13th April 1937 who came from a very famous royal family of the 18th century, namely from the descendants of Long Yunus.

  • 1959 (age 22): Bachelor's Degree from Queen's University, Ireland.

  • 1962 (age 25): Became an UMNO member and was appointed as the Ulu Kelantan Division UMNO Chief.

  • 1963 (age 26): Appointed as Kelantan UMNO Liaison Secretary and UMNO Supreme Council.

  • 1965 (age 28): Ku Li started his role as a Malay economic generator when he organized the 1st Bumiputra Economic Congress.

  • 1967 (age 30): Became the Kelantan UMNO Liaison Chief.

  • 1969 (age 32): Contested in the State Legislative Assembly against Dato Asri Muda and became a Member of Parliament.

  • 1972 (age 35): Received the title "Tan Sri".

  • 1974 (age 37): (1) Contest for Parliamentary seats; (2) Became UMNO Vice President in July after the death of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and retained office for three consecutive terms until 1978.

  • 1976 (age 39): Appointed Minister of Finance on 5 March.

  • 1984 (age 47): Appointed Minister of Trade and Industry in a cabinet reshuffle in July.

  • 1987 (age 50): (1) Challenging Dr. Mahathir and Ghafar Baba's squad together with Dato Musa Hitam in the party's election as President and Vice President of the UMNO party and lost 43 votes in Dr. Mahathir's hands on 24 April; (2) Establish Parti Semangat 46 together with Dato Rais Yatim; (3) Fail in the General Election to form a government.

  • 1996 (age 59): Re-joins UMNO after the dissolution of Semangat 46.

  • 2020 (age 80s): Winning the Gua Musang Parliament. Is the longest-serving member of parliament since 1974.

  • Former Minister of Finance

  • Former Minister of International Trade and Industry

  • Former Founder and Chairman of Bank Bumiputra

  • Former Founder and Chairman of PETRONAS

  • Former Founder and Chairman of PERNAS

  • Used President of Malay Chamber of Commerce Malaysia

  • Founder and President of Asean Chamber of Commerce

  • He has held positions in three International Finance institutions simultaneously. Namely the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A unit that achievement by a young Malay.

  • Is the founder of PETRONAS. Ku Li adopted the PERTAMINA method - Indonesian petroleum companies were finally enacted as the National Petroleum Act at the 1974 Parliamentary session. Ku Li managed to take the PERTAMINA recipe as a result of a close relationship with PERTAMINA President, General Ibnu Sotowo who was far older than Ku Li. Ibnu Sotowo was impressed with Ku Li's wisdom even at such a young age, but had great ambitions while Malaysia only had a 'drop' of oil production compared to Indonesia. Today compared to Indonesia PETRONAS is quite famous in oil liquefaction in more than 50 countries. Initially, Sotowo was not confident with Ku Li because building a Petroleum company was not an easy task, let alone at that time the ASEAN region still did not have the expertise and knowledge on oil exploration. Sotowo's 2nd meeting was strange and he felt confident in Ku Li's far-sightedness in casting PETRONAS. Today PETRONAS is able to fly high to compete with oil companies from America, England and the Netherlands.

  • Was the first Malaysian to meet the Chinese Prime Minister and architect for the pioneering of the Malaysia-China Friendship in 1974 which led to the fall of the Malayan Communist Party.

  • During Tengku Razaleigh lead the Bank, he invited Wong Pui and General Dato Khoo Kay Peng, Malay train staff to skilled in the management of the bank. At the time it was difficult to find a young Malay who knows the intricacies of managing a bank, of course, it takes time. It turns out that today the Malays not only able to manage the bank has been able to even have a bank like Tan Sri Azman Hashim, Tan Sri Rashid Hussain and others.

  • Tengku became the longest-serving Minister of Finance from 5 March 1976- July 1984 and every year presented the national budget in Parliament through a live broadcast by RTM. At that time, the country's economic development grew 6-8 percent a year.

  • The site of the PWTC building originally belonged to Ku Li, but in order to see the UMNO building beautifully and gracefully in the middle of the city center of Kuala Lumpur, Ku Li was willing to hand it over to UMNO.


Wow! It makes us wonder what have we achieved at all, right? Haha! Moving forward, here are our questions (Brace yourselves, It's going to be a long one!)


Q1. Tell us more about your schooling days in Kelantan, how was it for you?

I was affected by the war because the country was invaded by the Japanese in 1939, 1940, 1941, you know. They came across from the South China Sea but they also came down from Thailand and the Thai’s were not disturbed by the Japanese because the Japanese told the Thais that we won’t disturb you if you allow us to walk through to go to Malaya. And they came through.


Some came by bicycle.

These are armies and they came, and of course, we don’t have the kind of army to fight them actually because there were people from India who were used by the British to be our soldiers here. They also have the British army with the brigade in Singapore. So that’s the negligible defense force to protect the country, but I think the British people didn’t attach much importance to us. So the Japanese came in from the sea to Khota Bharu and from the North through, Alor Setar through Padan Besar and Khota Bharu to attack us, and then finally they came to Singapore and caused the downfall of Singapore. And from Singapore they came in by road into Johor and subsequently to other parts like Negeri Sembilan, Selangor and they captured the whole country. They capsulated the whole country in less than a month because the British left and ran, ran away and the people left to fight were the Malay regiment and the Indian soldiers. They were here and there, you know. So that’s how it happened. Then the Japanese occupied the country. Then the Japanese took over Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis and the whole country, but I can only talk about Kelantan, I was small.


They changed the education system. So they introduced a Japanese schooling system. I had to go to a Japanese School and I was 5 or 6 years old at that time. Still primary. But because of this agreement to allow them to walk through or to come through Thailand without being obstructed or hindered by the Thais, they agreed to give back Northern Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis back to the Thais because under the old agreement between the British and the Thais when the British came to occupy our country, there was this tessit understanding that the Northern territories should be under the suzerainty of the Thais. Even before the British came there were the arrangements of the Sultan of this country, of this Northern states with the Thai King, and because of that agreement, the Japanese did honour what they promised when they were allowed to walk through during the time when they wanted to attack us, during the war time. So they handed back the states for the Thais to rule but I think it was under Thai rule for 3 over years until the Japanese capitulated and surrendered to the British and allied forces.


What I'm trying to say is that when the Japanese came in, I can only talk about my experience, they bring in the Japanese schooling system. So I went to a Japanese school. After a while because they handed back these Northern states; Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah and Perlis to the Thais, so the whole schooling system was changed from Japanese to Thai.

So I went to a Thai school.

But before that, before the British came, there was already this Thai influence because of the agreement between the Sultans and the King of Thailand where they allowed Arabic and religious schools to thrive, but they also brought in the Thai schooling system and a lot of the local people went to the Thai schools. I did. Every morning I had to sing and salute to the flag of Thais, previously it was the Kimigayo, the national anthem of Japan. We had to bow to the sun and all that you know?


(Tengku laughing) These are the things you have to do after the war you know? Because they had a military rule so you have to comply with whatever wishes they had. So that’s it and what was interesting is that like Kelantan and Kedah, most of us went to Thai school.

Like my late father, he spoke Thai. He spoke Thai, because he went to a Thai school and wrote Thai, and the relationship was very strong between the Thai and especially the people of my type, royalty you know?


Our relationship was close and so it was at meshed and we were expected to behave like the Thais also. We dress like Thais. We wear those trousers which goes down, you know.


And you see in my office, you will see a picture of my father with the ‘jambul’ you know? Because when he went to school he had to keep that...like when you see the film, ‘The King and I’, and the little children of the King of Thailand, they had to go to school and they had to keep this little bun on their head. So my late father also has that but I didn’t have to do it because by that time the Thai’s school came back, and I had to go back to those schools, it was already during the war, so they were not able to enforce it. But basically the relationship with the Thais were very strong.


Like Tunku Abdul Rahman, our first Prime Minister. His mother of course was Thai, so he not only went to the Thai school in Kedah, but when he was growing up, he was 11 or 12, he was sent to live with the King of Thailand, King Chulalongkorn.


If you see the film, ‘The King and I’, that small boy who was the heir to the throne, he was King Chulalongkorn, he was the famous King of Thailand that modernised Thailand.


That made everybody learn how to speak English. They do not have signboards in Thai alone, they must have it in English. It was very modern and the people were not wearing that kind of attire, they had to wear trousers, coat and tie.. It was very modern. Everybody was made to learn how to dance, ballroom dancing and all this. King Chulalongkorn loved dancing. King Chulalongkorn was a modern Thai King.

But he retained what was Thai. But he wanted everybody to understand that Thailand cannot survive without being good friends of the other countries. He was absorbing this and that’s why he started English schools, he started Universities with English as a medium of instruction, apart from Thai. So like Tunku Abdul Rahman, he was sent to live with King Chulalongkorn and he spoke Thai, the Royal Thai you know. Not the Thai that you hear in the streets. So he was able to converse in very top class Thai lah. It’s called the Royal Thai language, the court Thai.

Like the Malays, there is also the court Malay language that is not spoken outside the Istana.


But anyway… Faye: Can you still remember how to speak in Thai? Oh yeah! I speak Thai all the time when I go home. So anyway, you are exposed to these changes, like me. I went to an Arabic school, then I also went to the Japanese school, and then the Thai school, and when the British came they restarted the English education. There were not many, in Kelantan there were only two English schools. That’s all.


So I went to a school there, and that’s it.


So there were a lot of things that you can learn but the Japanese were very brutal, very brutal. Everybody has to bow. There were many kids everywhere that were made to bow and if you don’t they will slap you or they just take you in the lorry and disappear.


Like I had a governess who looked after me and she had a son who was barely 14 years old or something like that, much older than me at that time. So he was my play mate and he is the son of the governess. She is this lady from the kampung who looked after me.


So one night, the military truck came to our house in Kota Bharu, and my house... (Points to a framed picture on a wall)


That is the picture of my house.. My house has this board put on by the Military Chief of the Japanese after the war that nobody can enter or interfere, in other words we were protected, because my father was somebody, so there was this thing and so the military boys cannot come and disturb us.

But because they were building this railway which later became known as the Death Railway in Thailand, have you seen the bridge on the River Kwai, there was this famous film. It was shown recently on HBO. I think you can get it on Youtube. But anyway, it’s called ‘The Bridge over River Kwai ‘. So the Japanese was sent over to build this bridge but they don’t have enough people to build it and they were not allowed to have their own people to build. They can only get the gengineers (A person skilled at engineering; genetic engineering) or people that are seniors to supervise. But all the work, the manual labour are all done by local people. But they were short of these local people. They were getting it from Burma, they were getting it from Thailand and so what they did was to also get from Malaysia or Malaya at that time. So my governess son, who was barely 14 years old, young boy, was taken in the middle of the night. This lorry came and probably somebody must have told them there was a boy in this house and then came the Kempeitai.


The Kempeitai was above everybody and you cannot stop them. Even the General cannot stop the Kempeitai. They came and orderly took this boy and threw him in the lorry and it was the last we heard of him, and we’ve not seen him again, or heard of him again.


We tried to get information from the Japanese military rulers, but they didn’t give any information back to us.

Faye: There was no such thing as justice for the people? Well, it was war.. War you know? It was a military rule. But we presumed that everybody was dead. But you can see the film you know? They kill everybody who didn’t do the things they expect you to do. They just shoot. Because otherwise they don’t have enough food during the war, so the best thing is to just shoot them and throw them into the river. So they were building this railway and now of course this railway is already built, it’s across the river called River Kwai, just outside Bangkok and a lot of people died, thousands died building that railway because it was a big river to have that linked in Thailand. But they were cruel, the Japanese were very cruel back then, very anti-Chinese. If they see any Chinese or anyone who contributes to the Chinese or squeeze the Chinese to give them money, food or cloth… During that time there were no cloth, people wore gunny sacks for shirts. It was very itchy. (Tengku laughing) So they were all wearing gunny sacks and sacks that are used for flour, rice, those were the materials used for making shirts and rice were rationed. You can’t get rice freely. Even my father who was very senior, very high up, they are also subject to rationing.


I have a big garden in my house that was planted with vegetables you know. And all garden has become a farm. We had to plant our own vegetables, our own tapioca, our own chilies and all that.


And you