Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was once one of the most powerful men in the country.
He keeps a reduced profile these although he is on the sidelines of Umno, the
partys affairs are still of key interest to him, writes JOCELINE TAN -
THE door to Tengku Razaleigh Hamzahs office slid open so smoothly and silently
that one only noticed it was open when he stood in the doorway.
The Kelantan politician-prince was wearing a linen shirt of the palest yellow
over kaki-toned trousers.
His cream-and-white circular shaped office is, as most people would know by
now, a smaller-scaled replica of the American presidents Oval Office.
His private residence is situated behind the office and the entire complex has
been along Jalan Langgak Golf in KLs diplomatic enclave for more than 20 years
The office had a well-used air about it.
And despite his confessed claim of being slightly colour blind, his taste for
colour and design has always been constant, whether at his Kuala Lumpur
quarters or at his Gua Musang base in Kelantan.
But quite typical of the old money generation, he is no spendthrift. His
loafers have seen better days and his black plastic Casio wristwatch costs only
RM200 although he has four or five of them.
And no expensive multifocals for him either for his bifocals have a clear line
running across the middle.
A framed photograph of his grandfather standing alongside his father has place
of honour in the office, hanging over the mantle.
Kelantans historical links with Thailand was evident for his fathers hair was
styled along the old Siamese fashion clean shaven, with a knot of hair at the
The original photograph had come from the album of a Thai royalty. Tengku
Razaleigh had the photograph enlarged and tinted by an expert, then printed on
canvas. It looked like an oil painting from afar.
But the energy in the oval room emanated from its owner.
A former Finance Minister and Umno treasurer, Tengku Razaleigh remains one of
Malaysias more fascinating political personalities.
He still has the complexion of a baby pink, smooth and glowing. And the
infectious smile has not dimmed.
Most of all, there is what some say is his greatest asset as a politician, that
is, his easy social grace. He has a seemingly effortless ability to mingle,
chat and laugh with people, regardless of their social class.
The man, known widely by the abbreviated Kuli, turned 68 in April.
He is an Aries (energetic, ambitious and bold) like his one-time political
rival Tan Sri Musa Hitam, and was born in the Chinese year of the ox
(iron-willed, fearless and persevering) like yet another former political rival
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is 12 years his senior.
If the astrological traits are to be believed, it was little wonder then that
the politics between the three had kicked up such a storm.
A ship can only have one captain, and the stars of the time seemed to have
produced one too many captain-minded individuals in Umno.
But history, as they say, belongs to the victors, and neither Tengku Razaleigh
nor Musa dominates the national consciousness of the X-generation the way Dr
Yet, he was a central figure in the politics of the 1980s and into the 1990s.
He fought Musa for the Umno No 2 post in 1984 and his fight with Dr Mahathir
for the leadership of Umno in 1987 resulted in Umno being deregistered.
He is very particular about the fact that he did not leave Umno. The original
Umno, he will patiently tell his listeners, was dissolved and the two disputing
sides were forced to set up their own political parties.
Semangat 46 went on to collaborate with PAS and win control of Kelantan. But
its ties with PAS soured and in 1996, it was dissolved and the members absorbed
Tengku Razaleigh remains Gua Musang MP but has stayed on the political
sidelines of Umno.
His diehard supporters would insist that his political career ended too
prematurely but he was philosophical about it: Its part of the game. You win
or you lose.
But for as long as the game was in play, he and Dr Mahathir were a formidable
pair of opponents.
He remains an iconic figure in Kelantan and, particularly in Gua Musang where
he often slips into the aristocratic mode of referring to his constituents as
my people. But he is not wrong, they are like his subjects and they do revere
him as those who have seen him on home ground would testify to.
Tengku Razaleigh still receives strings of visitors, from politicians to
business groups and journalists.
He keeps a keen eye on finance, trade and industry here and globally and of
course he is quite undetached about the political-goings-on.
In fact, he had started the interview talking about Chinas revaluation of the
Renminbi and Katrinas impact on oil prices. Global politics, he said, would
continue to be driven by energy issues.
But he is not involved in any business, not even as directors or chairmen of
any company boards.
I dont want to kowtow to anybody to get favours. Its beneath me to do that
and to free myself from doing that, I simply say no when Im offered, he said.
Is he quite fabulously rich?
No, I am just part of the middle-class, he said quite unconvincingly before
bursting into laughter.
However, he admits to being in great health.
He uses the treadmill everyday, does qi gong once a week, swims a few times a
week in his half-Olympic size pool and walks about his constituency when back
His rancour about PAS and Datuk Seri Nik Aziz Nik Mat has also diminished with
He made cutting remarks about his former ally shortly after their break-up but
now acknowledges that Nik Azizs strength lies in his reputation as a Tok Guru,
a religious preacher.
However, he does not see PAS maintaining its clout in Kelantan without Nik
As to whether Umno would be able to regain Kelantan, that would depend on the
personalities and issues.
The present (Umno) leadership in Kelantan is doing its best but its not the
time for people to make a decision, he said.
He said PAS rides on the miseries of Umno. In 1990, it was the Team A-Team B
issue and in 1999, it was the Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim sacking.
The PAS religious agenda does not sell. The women do not support them and if
they are going to say no, no, no, to things, the young are not going to support
them. If they go along the route of the Islamic party of Turkey then they have
a chance. But then, what would be the difference between them and Umno?
Even Anwar (Ibrahim) ? I told him that PAS had rejected him when he came to
Does he take holidays now that he has more time on his hands?
Where would I go? Ive been everywhere. Besides all my friends have died or
retired. When I call them, they talk about their aches and their rheumatism,
But he does have a few old favourites like Hong Kong where he has good,
long-time friends, and Paris, which he enjoys for the food and cultural
His reduced profile these days sometimes lends the impression that he is about
to retire from politics.
I'm still a division head and an MP. Even if I'm no longer an MP, as long I
have the people's interest at heart, I will be active.
He caused a stir last year when he offered himself to be nominated for the Umno
He said it was to send a message to the grassroots that they had the right to
contest any post, however high or ordinary the post.
It was not because he coveted the post nor did he have anything against
incumbent Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
In fact, it was more of a statement on what he sees as an unfair party rule
instituted during the era of Mahathir.
Tengku Razaleigh may be on the sidelines of Umno but Umno affairs are still
central to him.
I don't think I will ever retire. Politicians never really retire ? look at
Mahathir! he said with another burst of laughter. //Thestar 11 Sept