Tun Hussein bin Dato' Onn (Jawi: حسين بن عون‎; 12 February 1922 – 29 May 1990) was a Malaysian politician who served as the third prime minister of Malaysia from the death of his predecessor Abdul Razak Hussein in January 1976 to his retirement in July 1981. Moreover, he was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sri Gading from 1974 to 1981, representing Barisan Nasional (BN) and United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). He was granted the soubriquet Father of Unity (Bapa Perpaduan).

Hussein Onn
حسين عون
Tun Hussein Onn.jpeg
3rd Prime Minister of Malaysia
In office
15 January 1976 – 16 July 1981
DeputyMahathir Mohamad
Preceded byAbdul Razak Hussein
Succeeded byMahathir Mohamad
3rd Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
In office
13 August 1973 – 15 January 1976
Prime MinisterAbdul Razak Hussein
Preceded byIsmail Abdul Rahman
Succeeded byMahathir Mohamad
Minister of Defence
In office
MonarchAhmad Shah
Prime MinisterHussein Onn
Preceded byAbdul Taib Mahmud
Succeeded byMahathir Mohamad
In office
MonarchAhmad Shah
Prime MinisterHussein Onn
Preceded byAbdul Razak Hussein
Succeeded byAbdul Taib Mahmud
Minister of Federal Territories
In office
Prime MinisterHussein Onn
Preceded byHassan Adli Arshad
Succeeded byAbdul Taib Mahmud
Minister of Finance
In office
Prime MinisterAbdul Razak Hussein
Preceded byTan Siew Sin
Succeeded byTengku Razaleigh Hamzah
Minister of Trade and Industry
In office
13 August 1973 – 14 September 1974
MonarchAbdul Halim
Prime MinisterAbdul Razak Hussein
Preceded byIsmail Abdul Rahman
Succeeded byHamzah Abu Samah
Minister of Education
In office
MonarchAbdul Halim
Prime MinisterAbdul Razak Hussein
Preceded byAbdul Rahman Ya'kub
Succeeded byMohamed Yaacob
1st President of the International Islamic University Malaysia
In office
ChancellorAhmad Shah
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byAnwar Ibrahim
4th President of the United Malays National Organisation
In office
15 September 1978 – 28 June 1981
Preceded byAbdul Razak Hussein
Succeeded byMahathir Mohamad
1st Youth Chief of the
United Malays National Organisation
In office
PresidentOnn Jaafar
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byAbdul Razak Hussein
Member of the Malaysian Parliament
for Sri Gading
In office
4 November 1974 – 16 July 1981
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded byMustaffa Mohammad
Member of the Malaysian Parliament
for Johore Bahru Timor
(Parliament suspended 13 May 1969 – 20 February 1971)
In office
20 February 1971 – 31 July 1974
Preceded byFatimah Abdul Majid
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Hussein bin Onn

(1922-02-12)12 February 1922
Johor Bahru, Johor, Unfederated Malay States, British Malaya (now Malaysia)
Died29 May 1990(1990-05-29) (aged 68)
South San Francisco, California, United States
Resting placeMakam Pahlawan, Masjid Negara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Political partyIndependent (1987–1990)
Other political
United Malays National Organisation (Before 1951; 1968–1988)
Independence of Malaya Party (1951–1963)
National Party (1963–1968)
(m. 1948)
Children6 (including Hishammuddin Hussein)
EducationEnglish College Johore Bahru
Indian Military Academy
Alma materLincoln's Inn (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance British Raj
Branch/serviceBritish Indian Army
Years of service1940–1945


He was born in Johor Bahru, the son of Datin Halimah Hussein and Dato' Onn Jaafar, a fighter for Malaysian independence and co-founder of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).[1] His grandfather Dato' Jaafar Haji Muhammad was the first Menteri Besar (chief minister) of Johor while his grandmother, Roquaiya Hanim (also spelled Rogayah Hanim or Rukiye Hanım) came from the Caucasus region of Ottoman Empire. She was likely presented as a concubine (see Circassian beauties) by the Ottoman court to the sultan of Johor.[2] Hussein was the brother-in-law of Tun Abdul Razak, his predecessor as Prime Minister, who also married another Tan Sri Haji Mohamed Noah Omar's daughter, Tun Rahah Noah.

Tun Hussein married Tun Suhailah Noah in 1948.[3] Suhaila Noah was the daughter of Tan Sri Haji Mohamad Noah Omar, former Minister of Home Affairs and first Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat.[3] Hussein Onn and Suhaila Noah had six children, including their fourth child, Hishammuddin Hussein, the Minister of Defence from 2013 to 2018.[3] Their eldest daughter, Datin Roquaiya Hanim, died on 17 September 2005, at the age of 56 from breast cancer in Kuala Lumpur.[3]

Early lifeEdit

Tun Hussein received his early education in Telok Kurau Primary School, Singapore and at the English College Johore Bahru. After leaving school, he joined the Johor Military Forces as a cadet in 1940 and was sent a year later to the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, India. Upon completion of his training, he was absorbed into the Indian Army served in the Middle East when the Second World War broke.[1] After the war, his vast experience prompted the British to employ him as an instructor at the Malayan Police Recruiting and Training Centre in Rawalpindi.[1]

Tun Hussein came back to Malaya in 1945 and was appointed Commandant of the Johor Bahru Police Depot. The following year he joined the Malaya Civil Service as an assistant administrative officer in Segamat, Johor. He was later posted to the state of Selangor, becoming Klang and Kuala Selangor's district officer.

Entering politicsEdit

Tun Hussein, who came from a family with deep nationalistic spirit and political roots,[1] resigned from the civil service to go into politics. In 1949, he became the first youth chief of UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), a party his father helped establish. In 1950, he was elected the UMNO secretary general. Tun Hussein however left UMNO in 1951 to join his father in forming the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP).[1]

With IMP losing momentum, Tun Hussein went to London to study law and was called to the Bar and admitted as a member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, qualifying as a Barrister-at-Law. He came back as a certified lawyer and practised in Kuala Lumpur.[1]

Rise to powerEdit

Hussein Onn returned to politics in 1968 after being persuaded by the then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak to rejoin UMNO.[1] He stood and won the general elections in 1969 and was appointed as the education minister. Tun Hussein's meteoric rise continued on 13 August 1973 when he succeeded the late Ismail Abdul Rahman as the Deputy Prime Minister.


On 15 January 1976 he was appointed as Prime Minister of Malaysia after the death of Tun Razak.[4]

Hussein was renowned for stressing the issue of unity through policies aimed at rectifying economic imbalances between the various communities found in Malaysia.[1] For instance, 20 April 1981 saw the National Unit Trust Scheme being launched. He also gave serious consideration to the concept of Rukun Tetangga (a neighbourhood watch scheme) and the fight against the drug menace.

He underwent a coronary bypass in early 1981. On 17 July the same year, he retired from active politics and relinquished his prime minister post due to health concerns.[1] He was succeeded by Mahathir Mohamad, his deputy.


After his retirement as Prime Minister, he continued to contribute to welfare organisations. He was instrumental in the setting up of the Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital. He was also an advisor to Petronas, the country's oil company, and Chairman of Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).

During the 1987 UMNO leadership crisis, Hussein fell out with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, supporting Team B along with Tunku Abdul Rahman. Hussein along with the Tunku, henceforth, became a strident critic of the Mahathir administration and died without having rejoined UMNO.

Hussein Onn died on 29 May 1990 in Seton Medical Center at San Francisco, California, at the age of 68.[1] He had two sons and four daughters. He was buried next to his brother-in-law, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Abdul Razak at the Makam Pahlawan (Heroes' Mausoleum) near Masjid Negara, Kuala Lumpur.[5]

Awards and recognitionsEdit

Honours of MalaysiaEdit

Places named after himEdit

Several places were named after him, including:

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Tun Hussein Onn". Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  2. ^ Mehmet Ozay; Ekrem Saltık (June 2015). "The Myth and Reality of Rukiye Hanim in the Context of Turkish Malay Relations (1864–1904)". Insan & Toplum – Journal of Humanity and Society. 5 (9): 55–74. doi:10.12658/human.society.5.9.M0116.
  3. ^ a b c d "Tun Suhailah, widow of 3rd PM Tun Hussein Onn, dies at 82". The Malaysian Insider. 4 October 2014. Archived from the original on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
  4. ^ Tan, Chee Khoon & Vasil, Raj (ed., 1984). Without Fear or Favour, p. 38. Eastern Universities Press. ISBN 967-908-051-X.
  5. ^ Zainah Anwar (2011). Legacy of honour. Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Mohamed Noah. p. 275. ISBN 978-967-10382-0-8. OCLC 816815135.
  6. ^ "Senarai Penuh Penerima Darjah Kebesaran, Bintang dan Pingat Persekutuan Tahun 1981" (PDF). Prime Minister's Department (Malaysia). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 July 2020. Retrieved 25 April 2021.
  7. ^ "Anugerah Tun untuk Hussein kerana jasanya pada negara" (PDF). Utusan Malaysia (in Malay). Perdana Leadership Foundation. 17 July 1981. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  8. ^ "DK 1977". awards.selangor.gov.my. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
Political offices
Preceded by Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Prime Minister of Malaysia
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Chairperson of ASEAN
Succeeded by