steadyaku47 comment : This article (written by someone else) on Tun Omar Yoke-Lin Ong includes mention of Tun's contemporaries : Yahaya Abdul Razak - a grand Uncle of mine and Tun Omar's classmate in VI - Yaacob Latiff and Mahmood Ambak (both of them first cousins) - both uncles of mine.
Yaacob was my father's elder brother and Mahmood, my mother's brother....for you see my father and mother were first cousins. Yaacob Latiff later served as Mayor of KL and Mahmood Ambak is father to the late Kak Endon - Pak Lah's late wife.
I have wonderful memories of all of them and felt privilege to have them in my circle of grand uncles and uncles. Yaacob Latiff had a wonderful sense of humor and my enduring memories of him has to be that wonderful smile of his whenever he is amused... and the many nights we spent at his house viewing black and white comedies of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and the Little Rascals.
Mahmood Ambak had a melodious voice that we all waited to hear every time he had a party at his house. His rendering of Besame Mucho stays with me even to this very day. A generous and kindly man whose love of the hard stuff only endured him to us in more ways than one!
Tun Omar Yoke-Lin Ong
The Last Independence Fighter
hat would be the political scene in Malaysia today if Ong Yoke Lin hadn't taken a wrong turn one Sunday morning early in 1952 while driving to his office in Ampang Road? As it happened he found himself driving instead past the Cold Storage in Rodger Street (Jalan Hang Kasturi today). Outside, he spotted his former V.I. schoolmate Yahya bin Abdul Razak, a Selangor territorial chief and chairman of the UMNO election subcommittee. He motioned to Yahya to jump into his car and the two of them drove to Yoke Lin's office. There, after a half-hour discussion, a momentous decision was made in the political history of Malaysia that resounds to this day.
To understand what happened one must rewind the clock back to 1951 when there was the Member system under the British. Dato Onn bin Jaffar was the "Member" for Home Affairs, Dato Thuraisingam was the "Member" for Education, Nik Kamil (former Mentri Besar for Kelantan} was the "Member" for Lands and Mines. Despite the on-going Emergency, the British High Commissioner had promised the Malayan people local council level elections for town councils and municipal councils. If things went well at the local level, then elections would be held at state level and, after that, at federal level.
A few political parties including UMNO and Yoke Lin's MCA began to gird themselves for the elections. Dato Onn was then the president of Umno. He wanted to open Umno to all races but the other Umno leaders at that time did not support that idea. So Onn resigned and founded the multiracial Independence of Malaya Party (IMP). It attracted many supporters and, as 1952 began, the IMP had selected its candidates and was confident of winning the majority, if not all, of the twelve seats for the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council.
Ong Yoke Lin who was at that time Chairman of the Selangor liaison committee was perplexed when even MCA bigwigs like its President Cheng-Lock Tan, Leong Yew Koh, and Tan Siew Sin were falling over themselves to join the IMP. He confronted Cheng-Lok Tan (later Tun) to ask what it was all about. "No, no, no", Cheng-Lock explained, "I am joining in my personal capacity. I am still national president of the MCA!" Then UMNO, under its new President Tunku Abdul Rahman, announced that it was fielding six candidates for the elections. In response the MCA made a call for a multiracial slate of candidates.
It was in this atmosphere of political maneuvering and posturing that Yoke Lin had that chance meeting with UMNO's Yahya Abdul Razak. It was only possible because Yoke Lin was the only MCA official that Yahya - vested with the authority to do whatever he could to win for UMNO - knew and trusted personally, thanks to their V.I. roots. So in the registered office of Ong Yoke Lin & Company overlooking the Klang River was hatched the concept of an UMNO-MCA Alliance to contest the coming Municipal elections.
Born on July 23, 1917, Yoke Lin began schooling at the Pudu Girls' English School, which was a mere shop house then. He then continued at the High Street V.I. and tranferred to the new VI in 1929 for his Standard Six. He finished his School Certificate in 1932 at the age of 15. The headmaster at time was Mr F.L. Shaw, a classics scholar from Cambridge. He taught Yoke Lin Latin, so interestingly and so well that he was the only V.I. boy to get honours in that subject. Mr Leong Fook Yen was his geography teacher, while Mr Ganga Singh taught him mathematics.
In Yoke Lin's time, the V.I. was one of those exclusive schools like the Penang Free School, with three feeder primary schools - Pasar Road School, Batu Road School and Maxwell School. Only the best from these schools went to the V.I. His classmates included Yahya Razak, School Captain Bahauddin bin Yaacob and Jeswant Singh Sodhi. A member of Shaw House, he was involved in football and played badminton for the school. He joined informal badminton clubs like the Evergreen Club, Jolly Ones Club that met after school and under their auspices played against future Thomas Cuppers like Wong Peng Soon and Chan Kon Leong. He even had a few matches with Mr Shaw in the School Hall. Yoke Lin also dabbled in drama and once, as a thirteen year old under the direction of the Art teacher, Mr Chan Hung Chin, he had to put on a wig and a dress to act as a girl.
The secret of the V.I. was that it had good teachers, who were either Cambridge, Oxford or London graduates. They were all very dedicated. And the local teachers were good too. There was a spirit of competitiveness and a sense of pride in the school that made the Victorians want to compete against other schools for better results and for the glory of the school. There were all sorts of extramural activities that allowed for the easy mixing of boys of various races - hence the bonding between Yoke Lin and Yahya Razak. Yoke Lin was in the cadet corps and the scouts as well. In the former he was promoted to sergeant-major, training other recruits. He was very active in the geographical society and in the debating society where, after overcoming his initial nervousness, he honed his debating skills, skills no doubt useful later in the K.L. municipal chambers and, much later, in the Malayan Parliament and, beyond that, the United Nations.
He was made a school prefect; one of his fellow prefects was Lee Siew Choh who would later carve his name in politics as well, except it would be in Singapore and of a different, more fiery brand. Another colleague was Yaacob bin Latiff, destined like Yoke Lin to serve as an ambassador for the country and who would later be appointed mayor of Kuala Lumpur. Yet another was Mahmud bin Ambak, the late father-in-law of the present Malaysian Prime Minister. As prefects, the job of Yoke Lin, Siew Choh, Yaacob, Mahmud and others was to apprehend the boys who came late to school. They would lock the school gates after lessons began and apprehend latecomers to be caned on the buttocks by Mr Shaw to inculcate into them that punctuality was a very important part of life. All in all, Yoke Lin thoroughly enjoyed his time at the V.I., and came away with many happy memories, good friends as well as lifelong friends.
On finishing his School Certificate, Yoke Lin was offered a Loke Yew Scholarship to Hong Kong University to read either medicine, engineering or the arts. But he was keen to go to England for Mr Shaw had called him in and said he wanted him to win a Queen's scholarship for the glory of the V.I. Yoke Lin tried for two years but lost out to some Taiping boys who were offering mathematics as a subject. Of course, in mathematics - a subject not offered in V.I.'s matriculation class - one could score 100% while in Latin or History one could not. In 1935, Yoke Lin finally sat for the London matriculation - a very difficult exam - in Singapore and passed in all his five subjects. In 1936 he joined the work force selling air-conditioners, while training as a chartered accountant at a firm called Gibson, Anderson, Butler, whose partners treated him very well.
When he first started selling air conditioners before the war Yoke Lin could not get enough electricity to run his products. Electricity was reserved mainly for the use of the tin dredges and one large British manufacturing facility, United Engineers. There were few factories, and the big businesses were all British owned. One could see that the best roads were all built for tin mines and rubber plantations. There was little hope for good jobs, recalls Yoke Lin. Malaya's two main commodities, rubber and tin, depended on the vagaries of the market. Malayans were producers of only raw materials with no value added for what they produced. Apart from that, they were just distributors, wholesalers and retailers. It was sheer colonial exploitation in the classic sense, says Yoke Lin.
He had been hoping to read law but then the war intervened. After the war he founded his air-conditioning firm, Ong Yoke Lin & Company, in 1948 which is still going strong today. Not surprisingly he plunged into politics and joined the MCA in 1949. He had risen to be an executive committee member of its Selangor branch (under Colonel H.S. Lee) by the time he met with Yahya Razak that fateful Sunday morning.
When Yoke Lin broached the UMNO-MCA Alliance idea with Cheng-Lock Tan, the latter said "Yes, yes, I support it. Anything that brings the races together is good." The inauguration of the UMNO-MCA Alliance in KL planned for another Sunday morning was another thing though. Tunku Abdul Rahman promised to attend, as did Cheng-Lock. When the Tunku turned up, there was no Cheng-Lock anywhere. As the MCA President usually stayed at the Majestic Hotel whenever he came up from Malacca, Yoke Lin sent his boys to the hotel to fetch him. The hotel said yes, Cheng-Lock had arrived at 9 o'clock that morning but, no, he had left at half past nine. What happened was that Cheng-Lock had been "kidnapped" by the IMP people and so never turned up for that historic UMNO-MCA inauguration!
Nevertheless the upshot was that the Alliance won a big victory in the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council election, forming the majority. Yoke Lin was chosen as Alliance leader in the Municipal Council. The UMNO-MCA Alliance juggernaut now spread like wild fire all over the country from Johor Baru to Kangar. Every weekend they had elections in some town in Malaya and the Alliance would win 90% to 100% of the seats. Meantime the IMP had suffered so many defeats in the local elections that Dato Onn dissolved it and formed Party Negara in its place. When the local elections were all over, Yoke Lin invited the Tunku and Cheng-Lock Tan to sit down and talk, saying, "The Malays and Chinese are now comfortable working together. We should now discuss all the various big issues for independence." And so they had round table conferences and after many meetings agreed on a strategy to fight for the next goal - independence.
The Federal Legislative Council at that time consisted of 100% appointed members, including Yoke Lin himself. He also wore two other hats, as an appointee to the Selangor State Legislative Assembly as well as an elected member of the KL Municipal Council. Now he and others in the Alliance began to pressure the colonial government to hold national elections to elect two thirds of the legislative seats. The British agreed to only one third and things reached a stage where the talks broke down and the Malayans members simply resigned and called for a non-cooperation campaign.
The communist insurgency was then at its height, with more Commonwealth troops having to be brought in and more special police recruited. The British press now joined in the fray and criticised the ruling Conservative government's stand, while the opposition Labour Party was saying, "You are now fighting on two fronts. You are fighting the communistis and you are not achieving any significant victory yet. And now you are taking on the nationalists!" In the end the British came up with a compromise: 52 seats with the majority party appointing seven more making up a possible 59. Yoke Lin and the rest accepted the compromise and the Alliance, which by this time included the MIC, participated in the landmark 1955 national election. It won 51 out of 52 seats, appointed seven more members, and so had an overwhelming majority in the house. The Tunku became Chief Minister; Yoke Lin was made Minister for Post and Telecoms in the first cabinet and, after a few months, moved to Transport.
And now it was on to the final lap - negotiating for complete independence from Britain. An Alliance delegation led by Tunku Abdul Rahman flew to London and inked an agreement in January 1956 for Merdeka to be granted in an unexpectedly short period of nineteen months. With independence assured, new issues were now raised, in particular, the creation of a formula for a common nationality for all the races. Yoke Lin was in the committee to draft proposals to submit to the Reid Commission which toured Malaya in 1956 receiving memoranda and hearing evidence in camera. There was substantial agreement to the Alliance's draft document and the final points were to be agreed in London in 1957. The Alliance delegation in this particular round comprised the Tunku, Abdul Razak, Sambanthan, Yoke Lin together with representatives of the Malay rulers. The tripartite talks went quite smoothly, presided over by the Colonial Secretary, Alan Lennox-Boyd. The Malayan delegation even talked to the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, and the Foreign Secretary. All that remained now was to prepare for Malayanization and Merdeka.
When Malaya proclaimed its independence on August 31st 1957, it was at the brand new Merdeka Stadium in the back yard of Yoke Lin's old school. With the V.I. tower peering over the stadium in front of him, he sat with other ministers, resplendent in the colonial-style white uniform with ostrich-plumed helmet of that era. It was, Yoke Lin recalls, the happiest moment of his life. His struggle was over; tears of joy streamed down his cheeks. On that day, too, he became Minister for Labour and Social Welfare of a brand new country under Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. Two years later, he was switched to head Health and Social Welfare.
Having fought for Malaya's independence Yoke Lin was soon roped in to help with the difficult birth of Malaysia. By 1961 the Tunku's idea of forming Malaysia from Malaya and the disparate pieces of Britain's southeast Asian empire was gathering momentum. Yoke Lin led a delegation from Malaya as part of the Solidarity Consultative Committee comprising delegations from Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and British North Borneo, with Brunei as an observer. As agreement was reached to form Malaysia, Indonesia led by Sukarno fell under the influence of the PKI and instituted its Konfrontasi against Malaysia. With a serious potential for war in Southeast Asia, Yoke Lin was dispatched as ambassador to the United Nations and the U.S. in New York. Now on the world stage, he was in a different struggle, to defend Malaya's interests, lobbying endlessly with the Kennedy administration and other governments to seek support for the Malaysian concept. Finally, U Thant, the U.N. Secretary-General, sent an independent mission to ascertain the wishes of the people of Sarawak and British North Borneo as to whether they were wanted to join Malaysia. The report was positive and he was one of the signatories of the London agreement in September 1963 establishing Malaysia. Yoke Lin could claim, which few could do, to have helped launch two new nations.
He continued his stewardship as Minister without Portfolio to the new nation. Yoke Lin was appointed concurrently as Malaysia's first High Commissioner to Canada in 1966 and as Malaysian Ambassador to Brazil the following year. He relinquished his diplomatic appointments in November 1972 and resumed his Ministerial post until February 1973 when he was unanimously elected President of the Senate. He served in this position until December 31, 1980.
Today, Yoke Lin, or Tun Omar Ong - he has since embraced Islam and been awarded a Tunship for his services to the nation - enjoys a busy life with interests in several companies and as patron of the National Heart Foundation. With his wife, Toh Puan Aisyah Ong at his side, he works the social circuit. His recent 87th birthday was celebrated with the top brass of his old MCA which included V.I. Old Girl politician Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen. The MCA of his time is still around but the Alliance party has since morphed into the ruling multi-party Barisan Nasional. It must have given Tun Omar great pride to recall how his life's mission had come to fruition, 52 years after he and another Old Victorian first got together one Sunday morning to talk politics.