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A Malaysian Prince

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This post was written by Manveen Maan

WORDSMITH, PATRIOT, ECONOMIST, MUSICIAN, PRINCE. MANVEEN MANN MEETS THE MAN WHO PUTS A JACK OF ALL TRADES TO SHAME: TUNKU ZAIN AL.ABIDIN MUHRIZ.

As the son of the Negeri Sembilan Yang Di-Pertuan Besar, the state’s equivalent of a Sultan, Tunku Abidin (as he is more popularly known) wears many hats, courtesy of his background of varied interests.

A regular contributor first at The Sun newspaper and now The Star, Tunku Abidin has become a well-known columnist renowned for his opinionated, witty, and carefully crafted articles. It comes as no surprise that his book, Abiding Times, was published in 2011, followed by Abiding Times 2 this year.

“When I started writing it was in my capacity as a think-tanker with some experience in the public sector and international organisations,” he explains. “Although initially much of the writing was connected to Parliament, the judiciary, and freedom of press, as time went on I took on many different hats. My writing has explored things from those viewpoints as well.”

EARLY INTERESTS IN POLITICS

Educated first at The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, Tunku Abidin wenton to earn a Bachelor of Science inGovernment and Sociology from the London School of Economics, followedby a Masters in Politics and ImperialHistory, which was a move fuelled byboth interest and duty.

“No one goes into politics at universitythinking about making lots of money. Iwas motivated more by my interests andacademics rather than having a specified career path. When I was in school I didmusic; then had to choose what I wantedto do at A-Levels. For a split second I thought maybe I should do music, butthen I thought the path of politics wouldbe more likely to lead somewhere,” he admits.

A stint at the House of Parliament in theUK, followed by the House of Commonsand the World Bank in Washington D.C. sparked his passion for politics,resulting in him setting up the MalaysiaThink Tank; an organisation promotingclassical liberal ideas to Malaysians in amore strategic and organised fashion.

NOT THE 9.TO.5

“Coming from the British education system, I was introduced at an early age to the idea that people should be in control of their own lives, without interference or coercion from others. I’d like to promote this idea of efficiency and free markets, which I believe our founding fathers espoused.”

Now known as the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), the organisation shifted its base from London to Kuala Lumpur in 2009, with Tunku Abidin at the helm.

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“One of our main platforms right from the beginning has been working with universities. We really want to target the educated youth to effect change. I think that will always be most important to us – communicating with the young people of this country.”

On top of his duties at IDEAS, Tunku Abidin is the trustee of two foundations – The Negeri Sembilan Royal Family foundation and The Chow Kit Foundation. Besides being on various corporate boards, he also holds the title of Honorary Major in the Malaysian Territorial Army.

“It is difficult for me to do a normal 9 to 5 job because I often have to be in Negeri Sembilan for ceremonial functions. Now I do things in an advisory or board capacity, as it’s the best way I’m able to fulfill all these roles.”

A PLACE FOR PASSIONS

Outside his philanthropy, the 30-year-old prince is still passionate about music, even helping to revamp his state’s national anthem in 2010.

“The same recording of the anthem with a military band had been used for 40 years so a decision was made to revitalise it, to make it more maestoso (majestic), and got the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra on board. The process was really exciting because part of the historical research involved listening to old records. This is now the official version used throughout the state and I’m quite pleased because it gives people an opportunity to express their loyalty and patriotism,” he says with pride.

Balancing a hectic schedule does not deter Tunku Abidin from indulging in his other passion – sport. He plays tennis and squash at least twice a week and admits to being slightly peeved that the latter hasn’t made the Olympic cut yet. “If squash were an Olympic sport, Malaysia would have won many gold medals already, courtesy of Nicol David,” the patriotic prince says, referring to Malaysia’s squash champ.

A ROYAL LIFE

Despite all the years spent overseas, Tunku Abidin has retained an innate sense of duty to his country, presumably stemming from his royal lineage. “The lives of my ancestors have always fascinated me. They made the most of their environment and I was conscious, therefore, to make the most of mine. [When I returned from overseas] I knew I wanted to contribute to the nation through generating ideas and suggest policy reforms, and I’m glad that I’m still able to do this.”

Having a royal prefix to his name does come with its fair share of prejudices, but it does not hinder Tunku Abidin’s ability to effect change. “It’s sometimes difficult to be recognised for your merits. I also get the opportunity to meet influential people, and some might say this is unfair. But I believe I’m trying to do some good for the country, so I don’t feel bad using these opportunities to speak to people about my beliefs and, in some small way, make a difference.”

Laid-back and refreshingly down-toearth, it is not surprising that Tunku Abidin thoroughly appreciates the social aspect of his role. “I think in general, wearing all these different hats enables me to meet people from hugely different strata, backgrounds and experiences. That’s what I enjoy most; that’s where I get all my inspiration from.”

Having chalked up an impressive list of achievements at such a young age, what’s left on Tunku Abidin’s to-do list? “I think in terms of IDEAS, the mission never ends. It’s always vital to continually educate and strengthen institutions so that we don’t regress. Oh, and getting married, although I do have an older brother so there’s less pressure on me,” he adds with a smile. Ladies, get in line.

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Source: Senses of Malaysia Sept-Oct 2012

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