UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Abdullah Ahmad Badawi

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia’s fifth prime minister, took over the premiership on Oct 31, 2003 became the 5th Prime Minister of Malaysia and heralding a new era of accountability and transparency, and promising to clamp down on corruption. He came into office with an image as Mr Nice Guy and Mr Clean. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (who also known as Pak Lah) delivered most of what he had promised - during the twilight of his premiership. During his less than six years as Prime Minister, Abdullah sought to introduce various reforms to restore people’s trust in several institutions, with many pushed through at the tailend of his premiership.

The journey of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi began in Kampung Perlis, Bayan Lepas, Penang, where he was born on 26 November 1939. His father was Umno activist Datuk Ahmad Badawi Abdullah Fahim and his mother Datuk Kailan Hassan. Besides Abdullah, the couple had two other sons, Ibrahim and Tahir, and a daughter, Aminah. Abdullah’s grandfather Abdullah Fahim Ibrahim and father were both born in Mecca. Abdullah Fahim lived in Mecca until 1916, when he took the family to Malaya and settled down in Kepala Batas. He set up a religious school known as Madrasah Daeratul Maarif Al-Wataniah near the Kepala Batas Mosque. The school is still active today and is one of the most well-established Sekolah Agama Rakyat (SAR) in Penang.

Born in 1907, Ahmad Badawi followed in his father’s footsteps when he pursued religious studies. Just like Abdullah Fahim, he took a Malay bride when he married Kailan Hassan. He joined Umno and became one of its pioneer members in 1946. He contested in the 1959 election and was elected Kepala Batas assemblyman for three terms (1959, 1964, 1969) and subsequently Bertam assemblyman from 1974 until 1977.

Ahmad Badawi was a state executive councillor and was twice acting Chief Minister in 1975 when the then Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu was abroad. Abdullah was very close to his grandfather and was named after him. Abdullah Fahim would spend hours teaching his young grandson various aspects of Islam. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Islamic Studies from Universiti Malaya in 1964, Abdullah joined the civil service. In 1965 he married Datin Seri Endon Mahmood and had two children, Kamaluddin and Nori. On Oct 20, 2005, Endon died of breast cancer. On June 9, 2007 he married Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah.

Despite a family tradition in politics, Pak Lah had to be coaxed into quitting the civil service to become a full-time politician. Abdullah went on to win the Kepala Batas Parliamentary seat. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Territory Ministry in the same year, 1978. In 1979 he became the Kepala Batas Umno division chairman. He was elected to the Umno supreme council in 1981 and party vice-president in 1984, 1987 and 1990. He lost the post in 1993 but won it again in a dramatic comeback in 1996.

Under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s premiership, Abdullah held various posts, beginning with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. In 1984, he became Education Minister. In the 1986 Cabinet reshuffle, he was appointed Defence Minister. But from 1987 to 1991, for three years and eight months, Abdullah was dropped from the Cabinet, after Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Team B, which he was aligned to, lost in the Umno presidential elections. He did not join Semangat 46, the new party set up by Tengku Razaleigh but remained loyal to Umno. This was a period he described as his “sabbatical” which taught him a “hard lesson” and one that he learned well.

Tun Abdullah had the opportunity to work under three Prime Ministers - Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The leader who in his inaugural address asked the people to “work with me, and not work for me”. The announcement of Dato’ Seri Abdullah [aka Pak Lah] being the new Foreign Minister was immediately welcomed and seen as the formal return to high political office of a “prodigal son”. The reaction in Wisma Putra was certainly equally positive and, understandably so, as many among the senior members of the Ministry had been acquainted with Pak Lah since their days as undergraduates at the University of Malaya. Whoever was to serve as Malaysian Foreign Minister at the fast-moving pace of international affairs in the post-Cold War years would have to be quick in comprehending and implementing Malaysian foreign policy goals.

In the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Abdullah would not have to “give away licences and permits which might draw the self-seeking toward him” and thus managed to safeguard his clean image. Foreign Ministry contributions during those years of the Mahathir Administration were, in one way or another, greatly helped by its Foreign Minister being someone who readily accepted the reality of a proactive Prime Minister and his fast-paced diplomacy. There was an air of excitement that someone who had been dropped from the Cabinet four years earlier was being brought back into the Government to take charge of the Foreign Ministry. Many career officers at the Ministry took it to be a sign that he had been forgiven by the Prime Minister of the day, Tun Dr. Mahathir, for whatever “wrong” he had done.

During his less than six years as Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah sought to introduce various reforms to restore people’s trust in several institutions, with many pushed through at the tail end of his premiership. They included enhancing the public delivery system through the formation of PEMUDAH, restoring the integrity of the judiciary through the Judicial Appointments Commission and curbing graft through a beefed-up Malaysian AntiCorruption Commission. A key mission of his premiership was developing the country’s human capital to become competitive and highly skilled.

He maintained peaceful relationship with all countries regardless of economic level; and mMaintained a free, natural and principled approach in regional and international diplomatic affairs.

When Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister in 2003, political commentators said that he had very big shoes to fill. He was taking over from a man who had led the country for 22 years, during which Malaysia was transformed from an agrarian backwater to a modern emerging economy. He had a tough act to follow. Malaysians looked towards the change in leadership both with trepidation and high expectations. The previous two decades had seen rapid industrialisation and infrastructure development. Abdullah tried to navigate minefields while dealing with little Napoleons within the civil service and enforcement agencies, and meeting resistance to change within the own ranks of his own party. Barely months later, in 2004, he led his party to the biggest ever election victory in the history of the country.

One of the first things Tun Abdullah did as Prime Minister was to set up the Malaysian Institute of Integrity in March 2004. The institute’s role is to facilitate the aims and objectives of the National Integrity Plan (NIP) which seeks to develop a nation that has high integrity, is resilient and that embraces universal good values. He also sought to set up a Royal Commission on Police, though resistance led to it being watered down to what is now called Suruhanjaya Integriti Agensi Penguatkuasaan or the EAIC – the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission. Tun Abdullah also sought to strengthen what was formerly known as the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) by empowering it further to become the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Disappointed with the pace of reform, the 2008 general election saw a big loss for Abdullah and Barisan Nasional including the failure to achieve a two-thirds majority in Parliament. There was pressure for Tun Abdullah to resign after the poor showing of his party in the 2008 general elections. He was faced with two choices – to fight and remain in office as some of his supporters wanted, or to step down and make way for his successor. His reasons for resigning, as he himself states, were simple - he could face off his challengers in a bitter fight and probably win through the power of his incumbency. But had he done that, he would have inherited, had he won, or he would have left behind, had he lost, a fractured and divided nation and party; a party, of which his late grandfather Syeikh Abdullah Fahim and his father Ahmad Badawi were pioneers; and a country to which he had sworn loyalty. Therefore, he chose to resign.

Following his retirement, Tun Abdullah chose to be a political observer instead.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list