This hour thirty nine years ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Trade and Industry Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman passed away. He was fifty eight.
He had a massive heart attack at home.
At the time, Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was attending Commonweath Head of Government Meetings in Ottawa, Canada. It came to a shock to the nation, still fragile from the bloody racial riots four years ago. Tun Razak flew back immediately on a special plane provided by the Canadian government to Copenhagen and took commercial there on.
Dr Ismail was an important personality when Parliament was suspended and National Operations Council (NOC) was formed to manage the country. Order was quickly restored and bit by bit, Dr Ismail was one of those who painstakingly detailed the new elements in Malaysia post 13 May.
One of his pivot contribution during the NOC days is to restore public confidence to the Federal Government. According to former Lord President Tun Mohd Suffian “It was during the agonising days that his outstanding qualities came to the fore. Perhaps it can be said that more than anybody else the Tun (Dr Ismail) contributed substantially to the restoration of public confidence in the Government’s determination to restore law and order after the 13 May incidents.”
He was a towering Johor Malay. In the days of UMNO’s infancy and upon the summary resignation of Dato’ Onn Jaafar as UMNO President in 1951, then newly appointed President Tunku Abdul Rahman requested his involvement into mainstream politics, to maintain strength from Johor. After Tunku Abdul Rahman won the mandate of Malayans in the 1955, Dr Ismail was part of the London mission to negotiate Malaya’s independence in 1956.
Tunku Abdul Rahman appointed Dr Ismail as Malaya’s Ambassador to United States of America upon the independence of the Federation of Malaya. He also represented Malaya in the United Nations. In the first general elections in 1959, Dr Ismail contested as Alliance Party candidate for East Johor Bahru and appointed as Home Minister. He retired in 1967 for health reasons.
He had an illustrious career as the Home Minister and introduced the Internal Security Act in 1960 as a tool for internal security upon the end of Emergency, which include to deal with subversive elements and communist terrorism. Amongst the major challenge that he managed was the Confrontation with Indonesia, upon the formation of Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.
The chaos as the outcome of the third general elections in May 1969 got Tun Razak to invite the firm and no-nonsense Dr. Ismail back into the Cabinet. He was asked to take up the Foreign Affairs portfolio.
The Melbourne trained doctor was also instrumental in the Tun Razak’s administration to deal with the roots of the problem how and why the 13 May incidence happened. One of the factor was the Malays’ economic position was so behind and more than 36% were living below poverty line. Dr. Ismail’s stern response to this problem was to deal with it and “Don’t sweep things under the carpet”. When the had the national consultative committee that were represented by all parties (with the exception of DAP, which vehemently refused), the New Economic Policy (NEP) was born.
Whilst still in Ottawa, Tun Razak instructed that Dr Ismail’s remains was to be interned in the National Mausoleum in Masjid Negara. He was the first statesman to be interned in the purposed built mausoleum for nation’s greatest statesman.
Dr. Ismail was survived by Toh Puan Norasyikin Dato’ Mohd Seth and six children. His first born Mohd Tawfik later was elected as Benut MP during Fourth Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure.
*Updated Monday 3 August 0100hrs