15 May, 2010

She ain't 'heavy', she is our first lady !

Yes, sir! She’s the First Lady, alright.

Following our report on May 7 regarding the status of the First Lady in Malaysia, there has been mixed reaction about the title being used for Rosmah Mansor, wife of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

And, while there were criticisms about the title being ‘conferred’ on her, there were also complimentary views that she deserves the status.

Malaysian Mirror sought a clarification from a seasoned protocol practitioner, who did not wish to be named, and he agreed that the First Lady title is appropriate for the prime minister’s wife.

To recap, we reported that a full-colour advertisement appeared in the New York Times on April 16 to welcome Rosmah to the Big Apple, where she was receiving an international peace and harmony award from the city’s business leaders.

Extensive charitable efforts

She was presented the award by former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger at an event emceed by Academy Award-winning actor, Jamie Foxx with performances by singing sensation Leona Lewis and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

The Award was intended to highlight Rosmah's extensive charitable efforts and to celebrate the important links between Malaysia and the United States.

The main copy of the advertisement reads:

"Welcome to New York.

"Her Excellency, Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor

"First Lady of Malaysia."


The cost of the advertisement, allegedly paid for by a company linked to Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, is said to be a whopping RM10mil!

The brickbats that followed include calls to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the source of the funds used to sponsor the advertisement.

There were also suggestions for Rosmah to make a public apology to the palace for allowing the the use of the 'First Lady' title for her benefit.

A seditious matter

One reader responded to the report as follows:

“The best comparison will be United Kingdom and not the United States.

“The UK has a monarchy which currently is headed by Queen Elizabeth. It has a Prime Minister, just like in Malaysia.

“In the UK the wife of the Prime Minister is referred to as the First Lady.

“Taking UK as a model, Rosmah is therefore the First Lady in Malaysia.

“It is a non royalty title (which is more appropriate for a commoner). It is not even mentioned in the Federal Constitution. The suggestion to refer our Raja Permaisuri Agong with the title of First Lady can be seditious.”

According to the protocol practitioner, there is no need to make comparisons between Malaysia and the UK or Malaysia and the United States, where the president’s wife is officially referred to as the First Lady.

“In the UK, Queen Elizabeth is the absolute monarch (a ruler-designate since birth), while in Malaysia, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is a constitutional monarch (adhering to the provisions of the Federal constitution) who holds the supreme position for five years before the Conference of Rulers elects a new King,” the officer said.

In his opinion, it is a suitable for Rosmah, being the wife of the highest elected leader in the country, to be accorded the title of First Lady.

Notwithstanding this, he clarified that Article 32 (1) of the Federal Constitution stated that the Supreme Head of the Federation, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, takes precedence over all persons in the Federation and shall not be liable to any proceedings whatsoever in any court.

The protocol authority added: “This is true, but the Yang Di Pertuan Agong is above politics, he is apolitical.

“My opinion is based on the political hierarchy. In politics, the prime minister (or president in countries that are republics) is the first and foremost elected leader of the land.

“Both the President of the United State of America and the British Prime Minister are elected to their respective posts. So is our Prime Minister.”

With regards to the honourific ‘Excellency’ address, the protocol practitioner said there is no equivalent of the title in Malaysia, where the prime minister’s wife is normally addressed as ‘Yang Amat Berbahagia.’

Protocol under PM's Department

He said matters of protocol that involve the Malaysian Government come under the purview of the Ceremonial and Conference Secretariat division of the PM’s Department. The media and others can refer to them for any enquiries regarding such protocol matters.

“Sometimes the media is not alert on protocol matters since there is no enforcement. But I hope this will change when people are more aware that these matters exist.”

In most countries, ‘Excellency’ (which is usually preceded by ‘His’, ‘Her’ or ‘Your”) is a title of honour given to high officials, such as as governors, ambassadors, high commissioners and Roman Catholic bishops

“At official functions in Malaysia – whether conducted in Malay or a foreign language – the title ‘Yang Amat Berbahagia’ is to be used for the PM’s wife,” he said.

Malaysian Mirror

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