Seminar/Book Launch: Meeting Malaysia’s Unfinished Past



Discussion and Launch of
Drifting into Politics: The Unfinished Memoirs of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman
(ISEAS 2015). Edited by Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail and Ooi Kee Beng
Barbara W. Andaya, Leonard Y. Andaya, Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail and Ooi Kee Beng

The riots of May 13, 1969 in Kuala Lumpur precipitated profound changes in the practice and rationale of politics in Malaysia, and in the structure of power itself. One of the most difficult jobs during those tumultuous times was done by Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman. Called back from recuperative retirement to again serve as the home affairs minister put a great strain on his health. Known as a fair man who could not stand fools, his style of leadership won him great respect among the various ethnic communities and from others who knew him including Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.

Tun Dr Ismail had until his decision to leave the government in 1966 served Malaysia in many capacities, as the country’s first ambassador to the United States and its first permanent representative to the United Nations, minister of commerce and industry, and minister of internal security, and of home affairs, among others. He passed away suddenly of a heart attack on August 2, 1973, and it continues to be debated what path Malaysia would have taken had Tun Dr Ismail lived to succeed Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, to whom he served as deputy from 1970 to 1973.
Among his private papers, which are housed at ISEAS Library, was his unfinished autobiography. This has now been published, and is the third volume about the man that has been published by ISEAS Publishing since the papers were presented for safekeeping to the Institute in 2005. The other two are the Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (2006) and Malaya’s First Year at the United Nations as Reflected in Dr Ismail’s Reports Home to Tunku Abdul Rahman (2009).

These papers were preserved at home for 30 years by Tun Dr Ismail’s eldest son, Tawfik, who is now a spokesman and member of the G25 group of former civil servants who are among those calling for administrative and political reforms in the country. Tawfik is presently being investigated for sedition on having called for the disbandment of the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim). He has for many years been reminding Malaysians about the contemporary importance and significance of his father’s legacy.

Leonard and Barbara Andaya are the authors of one of the most appreciated books on Malaysian history—A History of Malaysia (1982/2000). They began their close association with the country in 1970, and are completing the much-awaited third edition of their book while based at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. In this seminar, they revisit those early years to provide a brief historical overview of Malaysian politics.

(BA and Diploma of Education, Sydney; MA Hawai‘i, Ph.D. Cornell) is Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS –Yusof Ishak Institute. She is Professor and Chair of Asian Studies at the University of Hawai‘i. Between 2003 and 2010 she was Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and in 2005-06 she was President of the American Association of Asian Studies. In 2000 she received a John Simon Guggenheim Award, and in 2010 she received the University of Hawai‘i Regents Medal for Excellence in Research.

She has lived and taught in Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the Netherlands, and the United States. Her specific area of expertise is the western Malay-Indonesia archipelago, on which she has published widely, but she maintains an active teaching and research interest across all Southeast Asia.

Her publications include Perak, The Abode of Grace: A Study of an Eighteenth Century Malay State (1979), co-editor Tuhfat al-Nafis (The Precious Gift) (1982), co-author A History of Malaysia (1982; revised edition, 2000); To Live as Brothers: Southeast Sumatra in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1993); The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia (2006), a Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2007. Her most recent book (with Leonard Y. Andaya) is A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and a third edition of A History of Malaysia will appear this year. Her present project is a history of religious interaction in Southeast Asia, 1511-1800.

LEONARD Y. ANDAYA is Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS –Yusof Ishak Institute. He is a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu. He has written extensively on the early modern history of Southeast Asia, particularly on Indonesia and Malaysia.

His most recent books are Leaves of the Same Tree: Trade and Ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008), and with Barbara Watson Andaya a History of Early Modern Southeast Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. They are also currently writing a third edition of A History of Malaysia to be published by Palgrave.
He is currently writing a history of eastern Indonesia in the early modern period.


Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail was Member of Parliament for Sungei Benut, Johor (1986 to 1990). He founded Johor’s first international school, now relocated to Sungei Buloh, Selangor as IGB International School (IGBIS).

In January 2015, he joined “G25 Malaysia”, an informal group of Malay Muslims seeking to redress anomalies between Shariah laws and the Federal Constitution. Tawfik has been particularly vocal about the restoration of powers of the State Rulers over Islamic matters as provided for in the Constitution, which had now passed into the hands of the federal government. He is one of the editors of the G25 Malaysia book, Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation (2015). He also co-edited “Malaya’s First Year at the UN” (2010) and “Drifting into Politics: The Unfinished Memoirs of Tun Dr Ismail” (2015), and facilitated source work for Ooi Kee Beng’s “The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time” (2006).

Tawfik received his education at Sheridan School, Washington DC, USA (1957-1959), St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur (1959-1966), the Royal Military College (1967) and Geelong Grammar School, Melbourne, Australia, (1968-1971). He studied History and Politics at the University of New England (1972 to 1974), and Jurisprudence at University College, University of Oxford (1975 to 1977). While attached to the Malaysian International Merchant Bankers (1978-1981), he set up Malaysia’s first mini money market in Penang; and while working for Fleet Group Sdn Bhd (1981 to 1986), he was Director of the Bank of Commerce, now morphed into CIMB; Director of American Malaysian Insurance; Director of Fleet Telecommunications, during which he introduced Malaysia’s first Cellphone Network; Secretary to the Board of New Straits Times Berhad; and Chairman of the task force to set up Malaysia’s first private commercial television station.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is editor of Trends in Southeast Asia (ISEAS); and founder-editor of ISEAS Perspective and ISEAS Monitor, as well as Penang Monthly. He is a columnist for The Edge Malaysia.

He writes extensively on Malaysian politics and history, and on Asian nation building. His The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (2006) won the “Award of Excellence for Best Writing Published in Book Form on Any Aspect of Asia (Non-Fiction)” at the Asian Publishing Convention Awards 2008, while Continent, Coast, Ocean: Dynamics of Regionalism in Eastern Asia, was named “Top Academic Work” in 2008 by the ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA).
Other major works include The Eurasian Core and Its Edges – Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World (2015); Lim Kit Siang – Defying the Odds (2015); Young and Malay: Growing Up in Multicultural Malaysia (2015); “Drifting Into Politics: The Unfinished Memoirs of Tun Dr Ismail (2016); In Lieu of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography of Goh Keng Swee (2010); Malaya’s First Year at the United Nations (2009, co-edited with Tawfik Ismail); and Lost in Transition: Malaysia under Abdullah (2008).

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 12 February 2016.


Feb 15 2016


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2