After Tun Hussein Onn retired as Malaysia’s Prime Minister in 1981, he did not interfere in the running of the country. Instead, he focused on his job as the Chairman of the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) and planned the setting up of an eye hospital, something Malaysia did not have yet at that time.
Tun Hussein launched a donation drive to raise the millions required for such an eye hospital and, six years later on 21st March 1987, His Royal Highness the late Sultan of Selangor officially launched the Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital that had already opened its doors exactly one year earlier (on 22nd March 1986).
That period, the mid-1980s, was also known as the period of the Constitutional Crisis when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad launched his attack on the monarchy. Road shows were organised and the TV stations and mainstream media launched attack after attack on the rulers.
The attacks were so severe and so vicious that most Malaysians were very sure that this was the beginning of the end for Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy and before long the Republic of Malaysia would emerge, just like Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, our immediate neighbours.
Tun Hussein was quite distressed with what he considered airing Malay dirty linen in public. If Malays do not respect their Raja-raja Melayu, how can we expect the non-Malays to do so? And if the non-Malays were to show the same disrespect to the rulers as the Malays were doing, the Malays would threaten them with another ‘May 13’.
However, as much as Tun Hussein did not agree with what Tun Dr Mahathir was doing, he did not publicly attack the Prime Minister. He kept his opinions to himself and spoke to only his very close and personal friends, and even then only if asked his opinion regarding the Constitutional Crisis.
Tun Dr Mahathir was the Prime Minister. So Tun Hussein kept his mouth shut and his opinions to himself. He did not ridicule Tun Dr Mahathir in public even when he thought the Prime Minister was wrong and should not be doing what he was doing.
The reason for this is quite simple. Tun Hussein felt it was not proper for him to undermine his successor.
The fact that Tun Hussein did not sign up as a member of Umno Baru after the dissolution of the ‘old’ Umno and that he invited the Sultan to officiate the launching of his eye hospital, at a time when most would keep their distance from the rulers, was enough of a message as far as Tun Hussein was concerned, and a very subtle message at that.
Tun Hussein was a statesman and a very regimented and disciplined person on top of it. This was due to his military upbringing. He commanded as much respect as a retired prime minister as he did as a sitting prime minister. Once retired, he spent all his time talking about his eye hospital and in raising money to make his aspiration come true.
Many are of the opinion that Tun Hussein will be remember for what he did as a retired prime minister as what he did as a sitting prime minister, not because he was not a good prime minister but because he was an even greater retired prime minister, mainly due to his legacy, his most successful eye hospital.
Tun Dr Mahathir should try to emulate Tun Hussein. After all, Tun Dr Mahathir has his Perdana Leadership Foundation, just like Tun Hussein had his eye hospital. Tun Dr Mahathir should focus on that so that his legacy will be remembered for a long time after he has gone.
It will be very sad if Tun Dr Mahathir is remembered as the ex-prime minister who brought down two of his successors and three of his deputy prime ministers -- Musa Hitam, Ghafar Baba and Anwar Ibrahim. Those are not what one should be remembered for.