By M Santhananaban
Today, exactly fifty years after Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman’s passing while acting as prime minister, the Malaysian government is commemorating the life of this exceptional and exemplary leader in a special way.
Ismail was a first-rate, formidable and forthright player in the nation’s quest for independence and the formation of Malaysia.
Together with a distinguished group of leaders led by Tunku Abdul Rahman, Abdul Razak Hussein, VT Sambanthan, Henry Lee Hau-shik (HS Lee) and Tan Siew Sin, Ismail helped to create a clean, democratic and multi-ethnic Federation of Malaya that was stable, purpose-driven and multitalented during the period from 1955 to 1961.
That initial highly successful and spectacular administration was a major factor in inspiring the creation of Malaysia in 1963. Malaysians must not ignore the reality that the inclusion of Sabah, Sarawak and, for a couple of years, Singapore provided the young independent nation an enhanced profile and prestige in the international arena.
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Although the peninsula had a relatively much larger population, the Borneo territories contributed rich diversity, a humongous land mass, territorial seas and resources that parachuted the country to the major league.
Ismail was a pioneer in initiating federal land schemes for landless rural dwellers and integrating a multi-ethnic federal administration. He drew investments from abroad, fostered trade and built nationhood based on mutual respect, confidence and trust.
Contributing impressively to diplomacy by serving as the country’s first ambassador to the US and the UN, as foreign minister, Ismail tabled the proposal for the neutralisation of South East Asia at the UN.
A foundation was laid by him and his colleagues to create a peaceful regional environment with Asean particularly. These factors have enabled Malaysia to focus on internal growth and foster an environment for achieving greater national unity.
Ismail had an enlightened, all-embracing outlook on integrating and unifying the various components and parts of the country and its population.
Today, perhaps Sabah and Sarawak more sincerely and spectacularly exemplify this enlightened spirit of embracing meaningfully all our diverse communities.
Regrettably, some political leaders from a few states in the peninsula occasionally display divisive and disturbing rhetoric.
Fortunately, the rulers have espoused an outlook akin to what Ismail believed in passionately.
The all-inclusive philosophy, probity and passion Ismail personified for a stable and successful multi-ethnic country is more relevant today than ever before.
M Santhananaban is a former ambassador with 45 years of public sector experience. He has no political affiliations