Dato' Onn was born in year 1895 and was raised by Sultan Ibrahim. Early in his years he had received Malay education before furthering his studies in England. Upon returning he worked as a journalist and went on to become an editor for Lembaga Malaya and Harian Lembaga in 1934. Apart from that, he was also a member of the Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan Johor. During the Japanese Occupation, he was the head of Food Ration Department of Johor.
From 1st to 4th March 1946, 41 Malay organizations had attended the first Malay Congress held at Sultan Sulaiman Club. The assembly resulted in the formation of a party that would represent the Malay people in their effort to oppose the formation of Malay Union. The third Malay Congress was later held at the Grand Royal Palace in Johor Bahru in May 1946. This Congress gave birth to UMNO with Dato’ Onn heading its helm as the first president.
On 1st October 1946, Dato’ Onn Datuk Jaafar was appointed as the Menteri Besar of Johor, Three years later he resigned from the post to fully concentrate on running UMNO. Under his leadership, UMNO had succeeded in forcing the British to dissolve the Malayan Union, which is to be replaced with the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu (Federation of the Malay States). The formation of Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 1948 had effectively protected the traditional position of Malay Kings, tightened the conditions for citizenship and ensured special rights for the Malays.
Dato’ Onn decided to open the membership of UMNO to the public regardless of their race. This motion however was opposed by many. Following this event, Dato’ Onn gave up his position as the president of UMNO when the 6th UMNO General Assembly was held on 25th and 26th August 1951. UMNO later would incorporate parties of other races in their campaigns, namely the MCA and MIC to form the Alliance Party in 1955.
After leaving UMNO, Dato’ Onn then formed Parti Kemerdekaan Malaya. Unfortunately the party received little support from the Malays, and thus it was dissolved. In 1954, he created Parti Negara to replace Parti Kemerdekaan Malaya. The main reason for forming this party was so that he would be able to compete in the first general election held in 1955. Once again, his party failed to gain support and did not win any seats in the election.
These failures did not deter Dato’ Onn’s determination to gain a place in politics. Due to his hard work and determination, he was finally able to gain a seat in the Parliamentary area of Southern Kuala Terengganu in the federal election of 1959.
Dato’ Onn passed away in the year 1962. Even so, his contribution to the country and people was never forgotten. Dato’ Onn was united in marriage to Datin Halimah Hussein, and one of the children was the 3rd Prime Minister of Malaysian, Allahyarham Tun Hussein bin Dato’ Onn.
Dato’ Onn was a man of vision beyond his time. He had opinions and ideas that differed from others of that era. He had wanted to create an equal political opportunities to the other races that made up the nation, but the member of UMNO had thought that such act would be a threat to their positions and interests. His steadfast nature in defending his principles and persevering spirit in working towards something he passionately believed in for the good of the nation and the people shall always be an example to us all.