LAST_UPDATETue, 15 May 2018 11am

Onn Jaafar: The Pioneer of Malaya's Struggle for Independence

Dato Onn Jaafar was born in 1895 at Bukit Gambir, Johor Bahru. His father Dato Jaafar Haji Muhammad was the first Menteri Besar of Johor while his mother, Hanim Rogayah was from Scarcia, Turkey. He was sent to England to study by Sultan Ibrahim of Johor and was the best student in English and French. Upon his return from England he was sent to his father to study Bahasa Melayu in the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK).


He held many jobs and among them being the editor of Warta Ahad which indirectly led him to be involved in politics and the struggle for Malays. When he was a member of the Majlis Mesyuarat Negeri Johor, he made two important political contributions to the people of Johor, that is, the setting up of the Sultan Ibrahim Scholarship and issuance of free air fares to perform the pilgrimage in Mecca for Islamic officers serving the Johor government.
.Besides that, Dato Onn Jaafar was the founder of United Malays National Organisation (Umno). Besides that, he was also responsible for the social economic welfare of the Malays by setting up the Rural Industrial Development Authority (RIDA). His son, Tun Hussein Onn became the third Prime Minister of Malaysia and his grandson, Hishammuddin Hussein is currently the Minister of Home Affairs in the Malaysian Cabinet.



Close Ties with Johor Royals


Since child, Onn was very close to the Johor royal family. Onn was regarded as an adopted child to Sultan Ibrahim. Besides that, Onn also was also close with the Tengku Mahkota of Johor, Tengku Ismail. He is said to be a very clever and active child until his mother passed away when he was eight. Since then, he changed into a quiet person and always spent time alone at the palace garden.
On 1904, Onn together with princes of Johor were sent to England for school. His relationship with Tengku Mahkota was so close and he was regarded as the guardian to the Tengku Mahkota. In England, the studied in a school reserved for those of nobility in Sulfork. All the expenses were incurred by the Sultan.  As he return to Malaya, his father sent him to further his studies at MCKK.

Political Involvement
Onn was very active in the Malaya nationalist movement. Among his companions was Haji Anwar bin Abdul Malik, Haji Syed Alwi bin Syed Sheikh al-Hadi and Haji Mohd Noah Omar. The establishment of the Malayan Union in 1946 by the British was greatly opposed by the Malays as it took away the ruling powers of the Sultan and the special rights of the Malays.
Onn then held an All-Malays Malay Congress (Kongres Melayu Sa-Malaya) to unite the Malays in order to oppose the Malayan Union. The Congress was held from the March 1 to 3, 1946 and it was attended by 41 Malay Associations. Among the decisions taken by the Congress were to boycott the Malayan Union, to mourn for seven days and to wear a white banner on their songkok.
Onn took up the role of Umno’s president on May 1, 1946. When plans for the union were withdrawn, Onn was made Menteri Besar by the Sultan of Johor. As Umno president, Onn suggested that Umno should be open to other races in Malaya in order to resolve the racial issue in politics. However, his suggestion was greatly opposed by the Malays. As a result, he resigned as President in 1951 and established a new party that is Parti Kemerdekaan Malaya (IMP).



From Umno to IMP to PN


IMP failed to work in the country’s political landscape, thus resulted in Onn establishing a new organisation called Parti Negara (PN). PN participated in the Election in 1955 but failed to win even one seat, but that did not disappoint Onn.
1959 saw Onn back into the national political scene where he entered the General Election. This time, the collaboration between PN and PAS saw PN winning four DUN seats in Terengganu while Onn won the Kuala Terengganu Selatan parliamentary seat. In Terengganu, PAS had 12 DUN seats, PN, 4 and Perikatan, 7.
Based on his seniority, Onn was appointed as the opposition leader although PN only had a single parliamentary seat. During that time, the opposition was represented by notable leaders such as Dr Burhanuddin Helmy (PAS), Dr Zulkifly Ahmad (PAS), Khadijah Sidek (PAS), Ahmad Boestamam (PRM) and Dr Seenivasagam (PPP).
His leadership stands in Parliament. He championed the education issue as he was the founder of RIDA. Besides that, he also criticised some clauses in the Internal Security Bill 1960 (ISA) as there is some clause that repressed freedom of expression, arguing that the clauses are unconstitutional.



Political Tsunami


Sadly Onn’s political career was brought to a close in 1961 by way of unscrupulous tactics used by his Perikatan adversaries. Three of PN State Assemblymen was ‘bought’ by Perikatan. They were offered business opportunities during a meeting with Dato’Abdul Razak (the then deputy prime minister and later prime minister of Malaysia) and, before long, the three were declared as Umno members. That marked the end of PN’s struggle in Terengganu.
He was also rejected by the people of Terengganu for the reason that he was not a native of the state and that he did not understand the state of affairs there. At that time, state sentiments were very strong among its peoples.
Dato’ Onn Jaafar passed away on January 18, 1962 at the age of 67 due to diabetes and heart disease.



The Real Fighter of Independence


Many Malaysians may think that Onn was the cause of the spilt in Umno. But for me, Onn had contributed a lot towards achieving this nation’s independence. He was the one who opened the door for this country to achieve its independence from the British colonialists. To me, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s assumed the role of continuing Onn’s plans which had been delayed. Abdul Rahman merely provided a roof to a house that is near its completion. The biggest contribution of Onn’s, who came to be known as the ‘Pioneer of Independence’, for me, is that he managed to fight off the Malayan Union.


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