Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Malaysiakini - Datukship a catch-22 problem for DAP

The 'datuk' we'll discussing in this post is not granddad or the icon reposing under the Banyan tree in my Island State wakakaka.

It's the title that comes with an honorary knighthood awarded by the Malaysian King (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), or the sultan of a Malaysian state, or the Yang di-Pertuan Negeri (YDN) (ceremonial governor) of a Malaysian non-sultanate state, namely Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak.

Apparently the title of datuk (or dato, datu, etc) came into use some 1400 years ago in the Sri Vijaya Kingdom, when it was meant for subordinate (vassalized) kings and regional chiefs. Later, some sultanates used the title for community leaders.

Today in Malaysia, as mentioned above, the title comes with an honorary knighthood awarded by the King (at federal level), a state sultan, or the YPN of Penang, Malacca, Sabah or Sarawak, usually as annual and sometimes as special honours.

In every society there are humorous stories and also jokes about virtually every facet of life, but the jokes associated with Malaysian honours award system have been unfortunately cruel, laced with cynical sneers and/or disdainful contempt.

The one currently in notorious vogue is that a Chinese or Indian in possession of a datukship could well be a crook or gangster who had shelled out plenty of moola to obtain the title, wakakaka. Incidentally, are there Malay gangsters other than Mat Rempits, some 'uniformed people', or allegedly an UMNO minister? wakakaka again.

Another Malaysian joke about datukship is that if one were to spit in a crowded place, there is a high probability that one's expectoration would hit at least three datuks, wakakaka.

My uncle told me that this particular joke would be akin to the old English joke/sneer about the multitude of Italian counts - unlike Malaysian datuks, counts were/are hereditary titles - with some even working as waiters serving cappuccinos at cafes. Such was the snobbery of the English but then, such was the proliferation of Italian counts.

OK, in real life there could well have been Italian counts who were crooks or members of the Cosa Nostra (Sicilian Mafia) or 'Ndrangheta (Calabrese Mafia) or Camorra (Neapolitan Mafia), but there doesn't seem to be any English equivalent to our Malaysian (first) joke, namely, a titled gangster.

Now, the absence of such a joke about an Italian count-gangster contrasts rather pointedly and indeed embarrassingly to our variety, indirectly implying we Malaysians certainly live up or, rather, down to our favourite national cry of Malaysia Boleh, in honouring even criminal hoodlums with knighthoods, wakakaka.

And guess who should we blame for this?

It's may be worthwhile following Dr Mahathir's example by blaming, as a start, foreigners, wakakaka.

Yes, blame the British and their royal honours award system. The Pommie example gave our founding fathers the idea of moving the award of datukship beyond the traditional Sri Vijayan practice of limiting the titles (presumably of the hereditary version) to only regional (subordinate rulers) and chieftains, on to citizens who have made significant contributions or sacrifices to the nation.

Incidentally, talking about 'significant contributions or sacrifices' by citizens in this post, I will not discuss gallantry awards like the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SP) or the Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) which are very light-years different from datukships.

The British honours award process, where the Pommie Queen (and previously, Kings) awards knighthoods to high achievers in various sectors of the (once) British Empire (now reduced to the parts of the British Isle and minor islands in the Caribbean and Malvinas, wakakaka, and some former colonies which still subscribe to the British award system) is not a bad system per se.

The system serves to publicly recognize and acknowledge the nation's leading contributors, such as exceptional captains of industry (eg. Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Charles Dunstone), those in the arts or entertainment (eg. Cliff Richards, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirrin), sports (eg. Sebastian Coe, Stirling Moss, Bobby Charlton), etc.

Richard Branson

Back to the British system again - I would like to briefly mention two blokes who received the Queen's knighthood awards, Lee Kuan Yew and Sean Connery.

'Harry' Lee Kuan Yew

While I respect and indeed admire Lee Kuan Yew for his intellect, leadership and astute management of Singapore into what the Island State is today, a 1st World nation of immense wealth, I don’t his conceit and what I suspect, sadly, to be a cultural cringe towards the British.

I was very much disappointed to read in his autobiography his crowing and coo-ing over a British honours award, namely The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. Oh, how he wrote so ever gushingly about how much that Pommie award meant to an ex colonial like him.


Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George

Here was a man who was the leader of one of the most, if not the most dynamic nation in the world, a man who was principally responsible for Singapore rising from being a 3rd World ex British island colony (with no natural resources other than its people) to becoming a 1st World nation of an exceptional order, and all within a mere 25 to 30 years, and he, a political-state superman, was thrilled with a mere meaningless trinket handed down to a former colonial by a foreign monarch?

dynamic and immensely wealthy 1st World Singapore

Look, there have been lots of tooth-picking, spitting-on-the-street Hongkie towkays, wakakaka, who have been made knights of the British realm for lesser reasons.

Can you ever imagine brilliant, tough, intellectual, assertive world-class Harry Lee lapping up a royal pat on his head by the Great White Mother in dear old England? What a split personality! My esteem of him immediately took a dive. So … he is not the complete great superman after all.

Okay, wait for the point I'm about to make. Manmanlai ler, wakakaka.

Next, we come to Sean Connery who needs no introduction to most of us as we have seen many movies in which he starred. His image is the one movie buffs associate with Ian Fleming's fictionalized character of James Bond.

Sean Connery

Lucky bloke (Connery, not Bond wakakaka) has earned a number of superlatives, where he was polled as ‘The Greatest Living Scot’ and ‘Scotland's Greatest Living National Treasure’. In 1989 the People Magazine announced he was voted as the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’. As if that were not enough, in 1999, when he was already 69, he was voted ‘Sexiest Man of the Century’.

It's relevant at this stage to mention that Connery is a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which campaigns for Scottish independence from Britain. He donates £4,800 a month to the party.

Flag of Scotland

For his contribution to the arts, not unlike our sweetie Dato Michelle Yeoh, the late Dato Sudirman Arshad and the late Dato Loganathan Arumuguam of Alleycats, ... 

Michelle Yeoh


Loganathan Arumugam

... Connery was recommended for knighthood in 1997 and again in 1998 but alas, because of his political views, namely, independence for Scotland, the then Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar was said to have vetoed the recommendations on both occasions.

But Connery was finally knighted in July 2000. I'm not sure whether it's because Donald Dewar was terribly ill that same year, and was replaced by Jim Wallace; Dewar died in 2000.

As Connery supported (still does) Scotland being independent from Britain, many did wonder whether he would reject the knighthood as did author HG Wells, playwright George Bernard Shaw, fellow actor Paul Scofield, and many more. But he accepted it, saying he was very happy to receive the Queen’s honours.

So, even for a Republican like Connery, and as we know it, for a near superman like Lee Kuan Yew of the Republic of Singapore, the allure of a British knighthood, perhaps the glamour and recognition associated with it, was irresistible for both.

The above two examples tell us we shouldn't be surprised that the associated glitz, glitter and glamour of being a datuk have even motivated some people to foolishly pay for one from a so-called Sultan Kudarat of Mindanao, wakakaka.

The point I want to make is that many (though obviously not all) Malaysians would like to be a datuk, no matter how much they may profess republican proclivities or pretend they aren't interested.

The other and far more important aspect of the datukship story is the politically-judicious necessity for some Chinese and Indian politicians (specifically those in the DAP) to accept one when so honoured by a ruler, and not to emulate, in the case of the British system, author HG Wells, playwright George Bernard Shaw, actor Paul Scofield, and many more who declined the knighthood awards.

While it's okay to decline a knighthood in Britain or other Western Commonwealth countries, it's unwise to do so in our 'skin-coloured' conscious society.

By deferentially accepting the sultan's honours, the recipient would be sending a message that he or she (like republican Sean Connery) is not disrespectful of royalty, a point the DAP ADUN for Sekinchan Selangor, Ng Suee Lim has made, as he was deeply concerned that DAP politician, in not accepting datukships as per party policy, could be maliciously mis-portrayed by the other side of politics (specifically UMNO) as being anti royalty and thus, anti Malay.

Ng Suee Lim

Then there are some Chinese and Indian businessmen who want to be datuks for no other reason than to be in the 'correct' crowd for business deals, contracts, the sort of money-making stuff which in Malaysia would be easier to secure when in the right company - not necessarily at the very top level but just where a datukship title could make some decent social impact and acceptability, and thus be useful to their business enterprise, wakakaka.

I had earlier mentioned that our honours award is prone to corruption where I provided three such situations. There is a fourth. For this one, it's not so much corruption per se but look, when a datukship is awarded willy nilly to some people, the effect could, would be and has been seen as grossly unfair or abused.

Let's talk about two Malaysians who swam across the English channel. Both were in their twenty's. One did it in a time of 17 hours 42 minutes. The other swam the channel in 9 hours 45 minutes. We have been very proud of both, but only one was awarded a datukship. Guess which one of them?

Regardless of the time he took, we must acknowledge the datuk achieved a great feat, but at the same time we need to note he was only 1 out of over 630 individuals (including women) who successfully swam across the channel in the last 128 years, with many in much much faster time than he did (including some women and his fellow Malaysian). Some even did the swim both ways across the channel, and in a continuous fashion. The datuk was hardly an outstanding world beater like Sebastian Coe or Stirling Moss.

But if Malaysia felt compelled to recognize the feat as meriting the award of a datukship, why was only one of them so honoured?

Much as the saying 'comparisons are odious' is true, alas, such an obvious differentiated consideration encourages that unfortunate comparison and, sadly and quite unfairly, diminishes his actual achievement.

Of course there's also the issue of his tender age! A datuk only in his early twenty's? Have we demean the dignity of the datukship and insulted HRH by giving a knighthood to a mere 20-year old?

Thus, I wasn't all that comfortable when Penang awarded datukships to both Lee Chong Wei and Nicol Ann David. Yes, we could argue that each of the two super sports persons has been No 1 in the World, but please look at their age. Won't it be far more appropriate when they have retired or at least have reached 40 years old or more?


Chong Wei

While I have no quarrel with Penang awarding datukship to N Mohandas and M Magendran for their Everest achievements we should also note that many people have preceded them to the top of the world's highest mountain, not unlike the case of our first English Channel swimmer who did it after more than 630 swimmers had already achieved the feat (the first being 128 years earlier), though I have to say that at least their ages are more appropriate for a datukship than a 20-year old chico.

Magendran & Mohandas

But I wonder, just wonder, whether the Penang (Pakatan) government had considered they were worthy of datukship when viewed within the Malaysian context, and wanted to make a just equalizing act to some willy nilly excesses by the BN government.

And far far worse than its willy nilly excesses, the BN government had even allowed Tan-Sri-ships, which are supposedly of a higher order than datukships, to be awarded to highly questionable recipients, those of alleged ill repute or associated with lamentable incidents. I can easily count three such cases which would have undeniably caused HM the Agong to squirm in embarrassment and, probably in private, curse the PM for forcing him into the lamentable situation of handing the awards to such people.

Thus, within such a lamentable context (of undeserved awards to people of questionable and disgraceful repute), maybe Mohandas and Magendran deserve their datukship after all.


I'm not going to make any recommendation on how to improve the system other than to hope the Pakatan Penang government will review the process to ensure the Penang State honours award system is not cheapened, abused or misused.


  1. Talk about Latuk being too many around and of no-value title, now the same thing happen to the titles of Lan Silly and Toon too.
    Very soon if you throw a stone, you will hit 10 Latuks, 3 Lan Sillys and 1 Toon.

  2. Latuk Seri Al-Juburi....sodomite, fornicator, purveyor of frogology...how come so many are easily hoodwinked by his antics ?

  3. DAP needs to get one thing very clear.
    UMNO can and does get away with disrespecting Malaysian royalty, even insulting them, but DAP cannot. At least not if it has aspirations to be part of the ruling coalition at State or even Federal level. That's political reality, its unfair, but that's the real world.
    Its a mild matter in Penang, but not in the Malay states with Sultans.
    Two long standing DAP policies need to be reviewed, because they cause unnecessary issues and obstacles, getting in the way of progress on far more important substantive matters.
    The Datukship issue and the Songkok issue.
    Its OK for DAP to declare that DAP leaders and members are not allowed to actively canvass for award titles, but Not OK to refuse if openly offered.
    And stop the Stupid, unnecessary policy refusing to wear Songkok at the opening of State legislatures. Nobody is asking you to "Masuk Melayu". Its just a dress code.

    I have yet to read or hear a justfication from DAP which does not sound grating to Malay friends.

    DAP needs to make up its mind whether it wants to go back to being a fringe party, or take its rightful place at the big table.

  4. agree entirely with Rocketman; I'm not sure why some Chinese baulk at wearing songkok. It's just a headgear. And indeed Rocketman is spot on that wearing one dos NOT mean the Chinese is gonna 'masuk Melayu'. The songkok represents our national headgear. I've worn one myself but now now I don't want those Melayu sweeties all rushing for me wakakaka.

  5. rocketman, sound reasonable, however dap (or some dap member, mp or whatever) used to criticize/accuse others what many thing they do today (songkok, capitalism, datukship...etc) would that not make them a hypocrite?

  6. Kaytee,how about Datuk Seri Nurrul.Maybe when her daddy becomes PM.Hehehe.Next in line to the throne for this pretty lass.

  7. Rocketman forgets, before 12th GE, Mahathir encouraged each race to defend his own.
    Taking that scenario and that circumstances, DAP had to defend the biggest minority, the Chinese not to be fooled by UMNO.
    Before Najib, Mahathir was controlling like a Dictator on all fronts and many Malaysians thought if there was going to be a civil war between races, Malaysia will break into halves or all will die.
    Rocketman ignored Chin Peng and China were watching closely for far UMNO wants to go on with their dirty race and religion politics.

  8. It is easy to "sound reasonable"
    It is hard to fight against corruptions and racist crooks with Malaysians wanting to "sound reasonable".
    ktee loves to be very reasonable.

  9. At one time England had a very bad history concerning the King's handing out of titles, back in the 14th and 15th centuries.

    Historically a Lord or other nobleman was actually descended from old elite families, and a Knight ("Sir") was a real warrior who had served the King in battle.

    In the era before Government deficit spending was invented, the Crown could only spend against funds or property it actually possessed, or borrow real money from some businessman (like everybody else).
    Some bright spark figured out the King could raise a lot of money by selling titles. Any nouveau riche with enough money could transform himself into a wow! a feudal Baron with (bogus) instant noble lineage. Fat middle-aged businessmen could buy themselves a Knighthood previously meant for gallant warriors.

    There were so many Instant Nobles and Knights around London it became a joke.
    Of course, some of them were also crooked men, just like in Malaysia today.
    It took England centuries to clean up their act, even today there is still a lot of politics and $$ money tied up with the award of titles.

    Just a bit of historical trivia...

  10. My architect friend just recently got himself a datukship.

    Another friend, who is an engineer, was also 'awarded' a datukship too.

    Yet another....who was the CEO of a public listed company, became a DATUK not too long ago.

    None of them deny to their close friends that monetary contributions have to be made to get these titles.

    So tainted are such awards that the few genuine recepients that I also know of have to go the distance to explain that although they are DATUKS, they are the church-mouse-poor type, so they are unable to give out big tips to waiters and doormen, or be chauffered-driven in big cars etc etc. In other words, they don't look and act like DATUKS, whatever that means.

    Tainted, tainted, tainted....could this happened be one of the many reasons why DAP give such a wide berth to this sham process ?

    Defination of "SHAM"

    sham (shm)
    1. Something false or empty that is purported to be genuine; a spurious imitation.
    2. The quality of deceitfulness; empty pretense.
    3. One who assumes a false character; an impostor: "He a man! Hell! He was a hollow sham!" (Joseph Conrad).
    4. A decorative cover made to simulate an article of household linen and used over or in place of it: a pillow sham.
    Not genuine; fake: sham diamonds; sham modesty.
    v. shammed, sham·ming, shams
    To put on the false appearance of; feign: "shamming insanity to get his tormentors to leave him alone" (John Wain).
    To assume a false appearance or character; dissemble.

    [Perhaps dialectal variant of shame.]

    Incidentally, Ghaffar Baba have consistently turned down all titleship awards ( he even made snide remarks about such titles )but succumbed only when he was out of favour after he was 'deposed' by you-know-who.