[Most parts of this article was originally written in BM by our sister site, SOSCILI. You can read it here.]
It’s not thaaat easy to get royal awards in Malaysia. Well, okay, maybe not datukships cos it seems like it’s been given out dime a dozen. In fact, the Malaysian Insider once reported that somehow 700-1,200 new Datuks are being appointed annually.
According to Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Director of the Centre for Policy Initiatives, there could be tens of thousands of datuks in the country… maybe even more! He adds that if we were to go on a per-capita basis, we’d have the most number of titled people in the world. Anyway, we digress.
Datukships aside, one thing’s for sure: we’re guessing that it wouldn’t feel nice to have to give the award back. Not just a datukship, but any form of award, royal or not.
But these things do happen and Malaysia has had the misfortune of witnessing several politicians who went through that ordeal. Here are a few of them, including one that recently made the news…
1. When Dr M gave his awards away when the Sultan never asked for it also
Two months back, precisely on the 14th of October 2017, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Najib had descended from “Bugis pirates” and made a distasteful joke asking him to “Pegi baliklah ke Bugis”.
This did not settle well among Malaysians who have ancestors from Bugis (South Sulawesi, Indonesia) and the Indonesians. The Sultan of Selangor and Sultan of Johor (who are both of Bugis descent) are two of those who were deeply offended by Dr Mahathir’s speech during the Love Malaysia, End Kleptocracy rally.
Though Dr Mahathir stood by what he said and reiterated that he actually meant those words only for Najib and never against the Bugis people, Sultan of Selangor (Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah) was very unhappy with that statement and urged the police to investigate Dr Mahathir because the Sultan saw this as means of provoking Malaysians to belittle the Bugis community.
This turn of events ended up with Dr Mahathir voluntarily returning the two awards he received from the Selangor Palace. (One from then Sultan Selangor in 1978 and another from current Sultan Selangor in 2003.)
The Star reported that one of the awards was the Darjah Kebesaran Seri Paduka Mahkota Selangor (SPMS) (First Class). You can read more about the prestigious award here, but one interesting thing we learnt about it is that there is a maximum quota of 40 recipients, and recipients would have the right to use the title ‘Dato’ Seri’ (for guys) or ‘Datin Paduka Seri’ (for women).
2. That time Anwar lost his title for disrespecting the Sultan
Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘Datuk Seri‘ title that was given to him by the Sultan of Selangor’s late father, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah in 1992, was revoked in 2014. Ok so, what actually happened?
Basically, in 2013, there was political tension in Selangor when Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim who was the Menteri Besar Selangor at that time, was told to resign and also fired by PKR Central Leadership Council (Majlis Pimpinan Pusat PKR). The reason why he was actually fired was because he refused to give up his Selangor MB post. In fact, the party had chosen Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as a candidate to take over his Selangor MB post.
So, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah ordered PAS, PKR and DAP to give out at least THREE names for the new Menteri Besar Selangor candidates. But only PAS seemed to remember the exact orders of the Sultan because PKR and DAP gave only ONE name which was PKR President, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
After hearing this, PAS urged PKR and DAP to listen to what the Sultan asked for because…you know.. he’s the sultan?? Their refusal to listen to the Sultan’s order and Anwar’s conduct of the Menteri Besar Selangor crisis angered the Sultan so much that he decided to strip Anwar off his ‘Datuk Seri’ title.
“The decision is based on Anwar’s repeated questioning of the integrity of the Selangor Sultan and royal institution in resolving the Selangor MB crisis, as well as his questioning of issues related to Islam.” – Selangor Sultan’s Private Secretary Datuk Mohamad Munir Bani said in a statement.
See, next time just listen to what the Sultan says because the Sultan has the powers to strip away someone’s title as written in the state’s constitution. But he doesn’t just go around stripping titles lah. He consulted with the Selangor Royal Council and decided to revoke Anwar Ibrahim’s ‘Datuk Seri’ title. Datuk Mohamad Munir Bani further on added that Anwar Ibrahim’s actions and behaviour showed that he was no longer fit to hold such a title.
Wait….if he dah takde ‘Datuk Seri’ how come Anwar Ibrahim still has the title in 2017??
Wellllll, that’s because Anwar Ibrahim still holds ‘Datuk Seri’ title from SEVEN other states in Malaysia! The datukship title that he lost was only Selangor state one. The other seven datukship titles are actually from Perlis, Perak, Sabah, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Malacca and Pahang. Phew! That’s why Anwar Ibrahim is still referred to as a ‘Datuk Seri’.
3. And when Khir Toyo lost his from doing some nasty stuff
Anwar Ibrahim was not alone in this matter because Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo’s datukship title was stripped away from him too. Though Anwar had his ‘Datuk Seri’ taken away because he didn’t respect Sultan of Selangor by providing only one name for the candidates, Dr Khir Toyo had his “Datuk Seri’ take away because of his involvement in corruption while being a public servant.
He was a former Menteri Besar Selangor who messed up while holding the datukship title that he received from the Selangor state. Obviously, this did NOT go well with the Sultan of Selangor. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah consulted the Selangor Royal Council and came to the decision to strip away Dr Khir Toyo’s datukship title.
“As Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo was found guilty and sentenced for the offence he was charged with, he is no longer fit to hold this award.” – Selangor State Secretary Datuk Mohammed Khusrin Munawi.
Dr Khir Toyo did temporarily surrender his datukship title in 2011 when his trial was still ongoing. Too bad for him though, because the temporary surrender became permanent. See, after Dr Khir Toyo had his datukship stripped away, he was prohibited from keeping the award and using the ‘Datuk Seri’ title. The others, maybe common people or politicians or ANYBODY lah, were also barred from addressing him by that title.
Selangor State Secretary Datuk Mohammed Khusrin Munawi added on that the Sultan was concerned about the reputation of recipients of Selangor state awards, especially leaders involved in criminal wrongdoing and immoral acts such as corruption, breach of trust and abuse of power.
“Those who receive the award should not be involved in any misappropriation and criminal activities to protect the dignity of the award that he is wearing besides preserving his status,” – Selangor State Secretary Datuk Mohammed Khusrin Munawi.
4. The time when Ahmad Razif lost his title… without knowing why he lost it also
Though Terengganu is known for it’s amazing islands, it has faced far more, er, interesting controversies. These controversies range from Terengganu having the highest mental health problems to having problems in the projects that were set up around the state. The state also had its Menteri Besar switching many times for all kinds of reasons.
Last year April, there was another controversy in the state regarding Menteri Besar when Ahmad Razif Abd Rahman had his ‘Datuk Seri’ stripped away from him by the Sultan of Terengganu. What did he do lah??
There are TWO speculations as to why Ahmad Razif might have lost his datukship.
Firstly, it was speculated that the Sultan of Terengganu was upset at Ahmad Razif because of his speech that belittled Yayasan Diraja Sultan Mizan’s (YDSM) contribution. Last April, in an event for National Education Savings Scheme (SSPN-i) for poor students in Terengganu, Ahmad Razif belittled YDSM’s contribution by comparing it to the gomen’s contribution. It was widely speculated that the Sultan has been upset ever since that event and that was the reason he stripped away Ahmad Razif’s datukship title.
And secondly, people speculated that it could be because Ahmad Razif supported Dr Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher who is from India. Apparently, Ahmad Razif said that he’ll provide three islands in Tasik Kenyir to Dr Zakir Naik to build an Islamic research centre in the region.
When allegations were made that he had already ‘gifted’ those islands to Dr Zakir Naik, Ahmad Razif denied those allegations. He just offered it verbally to Dr Zakir Naik and Dr Zakir Naik needs to submit a proposal that the state will look at and ONLY THEN will they consider giving him the islands further.
Whatever the reason was, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin stripped away Ahmad Razif’s datukship. Him losing his datukship stirred up rumours of a possible change of Menteri Besar! He was later told that he’ll be the current Menteri Besar and there’ll be no change. Ahmad Razif was very relieved and hoped all the government officials will work together with him in matters of the state and the people.
“I take this opportunity to invite all to move forward, continue working for the wellbeing of the people. What is important is to work as a team and to ensure the services and whatever work we do is for the good.” – Ahmad Razif
Lucky him though, because 4 months later, Ahmad Razif had regained his datukship title from Sultan of Terengganu. Comptroller of the Royal Household, Office of His Royal Highness the Sultan of Terengganu announced a statement that said that after consulting with the Terengganu State Regency Council, Sultan Mizan had consented to give Ahmad Zarif his ‘Datuk Seri’ title back.
Ahmad Zarif was probably too happy about this ordeal because the only reaction he could give was “Syukur Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God)”.
5. Rosmah lead by example by having her ‘Lead by Example’ award from UNESCO withdrawn
(Ok la bonus cos technically no actual award was received.)
In 2016, Najib’s wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was actually selected to receive UNESCO’s ‘Lead by Example’ award. So what exactly did she do to receive this award?
The award was actually awarded to her because of her efforts in developing the potential of children, especially through the Permata programme. The Permata programme
if you didn’t know what it is like this writer too who only knew after googling it was designed for early childhood education in Malaysia and Rosmah was the founder of this programme.
“This recognition is also an honour for Malaysia for providing quality education for the holistic development of children.” – Education Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Alias Ahmad, who is also Malaysian National Commission for UNESCO vice-president.
Her happiness didn’t last that long because in a matter of time, the New York Times published an article saying that UNESCO made a statement of withdrawing Rosmah’s award! Why??
Professor Tudor Parfitt, who is the chair of the international academic advisory panel for the event said that the reason Pemata was removed was because of the funding sources. People questioned the committee about Permata organisation’s funding and because the committee couldn’t verify the sources of funding in such a short time, they ALL decided to just remove Permata from the list of honourees.
Also, in a surprising turn of events, it turns out that UNESCO was not the organisation that was going to award Rosmah. Asdfghjkl what?!?!
The award was supposed to be presented by the Antiquities Coalition, an NGO where it aims to stop cultural racketeering, which is basically the looting and illegal trade of antiquities by organized criminals and terrorist organisations. They had apparently sent out a press release to the media making clarifications about the questions surrounding the award.
“Contrary to erroneous reports, the event is not a UNESCO event, nor is UNESCO giving the award.” – Andy Beck, a spokesperson for the Antiquities Coalition.
Don’t be sad that she didn’t receive the ‘Lead by Example’ award from UNESCO. Our First Lady had received other awards like ‘Tokoh Wanita‘ award from the Wanita magazine and Lifetime Achievement award from the World Chinese Economic Summit (WCES).
There are those who actually refuse to be awarded in the first place
There’s actually quite a number of people who rejected titles and awards and one of them is Tun Ghafar Baba, a Malaysian politician. Even though he received the position for Deputy Prime Minister in 1986, he still preferred using ‘Encik Ghafar Baba’ rather than ‘Datuk Seri’.
Tun Ghafar Baba had also said no many times to receiving titles and awards throughout his work in the politics and the gomen.
“He didn’t fight for the sake of self-esteem and expected to receive replies such as rank or position. In fact, he often rejects his rank, even though he has been given the title of Tun, he is more comfortable, if addressed by ‘Pak Ghafar’ or ‘Teacher Ghafar’. – Translated from Sumbangan Tun Ghafar Baba kepada pembangunan sosio-ekonomi Malaysia, Jabatan Sejarah, Fakulti Sastera dan Sains Sosial, Universiti Malaya.
There’s actually many more people in Malaysia who deserve datukship, but they don’t ask for it lah because it’s not genuine if you do good things just for namesake kan?
Anyway, if YOU want to be awarded with something, you can always try to get a datukship yourself. According to Ipoh Timur MP Thomas Su: “It is an open secret that Datukships are for sale by cheats and those who claim to have the ear of the royalty, and there are individuals who abuse their titles.” Former President of the Council of Datuk-Datuk Penang Datuk Seri Nazir Ariff also shared his story of having been approached by people offering to ‘sell’ him a title before.
But if can be bought, what’s the price tag? In 2009, Raja Petra Kamarudin who has royal lineage himself, had claimed that Datukships can be bought for RM250,000. (A claim that peeved the royals and the Negeri Sembilan palace lodged a report against him.) Better start saving now.