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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The nitpicking issue of the official address of 'First Lady'


Mustapha Ong, MasAgungKL d'Scribe

It is rather unfortunate that some Malaysians are ignorant of the official title of "First Lady" in the current administration, which officially refers to the wife of the serving prime minister in office.

As a retired Malaysian diplomat, I am surprised that the Protocol Division in the Prime Minister's Department as well as the Foreign Ministry had failed to clarify the issue in the interest of the public. Do we expect the wife of the incumbent prime minister to justify herself that she should be officially or formally addressed as "Malaysia's First Lady"?

I wish to recall that the controversial issue of "First Lady" was officially used by the wife of former prime minister Tun Dr. Mahathir when Tun Siti Hasmah took office as the "First Lady".

For the record, nobody had queried or made any negative statement against the official title of "First Lady" at the time of Tun Siti Hasmah. Subsequently, the late wife of former PM Tun Abdullah was also addressed as "First Lady" without any criticism. However, in July, 2007 some unsound spin doctors openly criticised Tun Jean Abdullah for the controversial use of the formal title as "First Lady".

In recent months, some unsound spin doctors also openly condemned the use of "First Lady" by Datin Seri Rosmah, the incumbent wife of prime minister Najib. I am non partisan but only wish to share my protocol knowledge and social etiquette, so that this issue of "First Lady" should be clarified and resolved for public interest without malice and prejudice.

I HAVE ALSO HEARD VERY UNKIND REMARKS AGAINST DATIN SERI ROSMAH FOR THE USE OF THE OFFICIAL ADDRESS AS 'FIRST LADY' IN PUBLIC FUNCTIONS.

The use of the official title 'First Lady' accorded to the wife of the prime minister has been misunderstood by many officials as well as the general public. Malaysia is not a republic like Singapore, Indonesia, USA and some other countries, where the "First Lady" is the wife of the incumbent President in office. In Malaysia, "The First Lady" is the official title of the prime minister's wife, in terms of protocol and etiquette to complement the official status of the Rt Honorable Prime Minister.

Protocol dictates that the wife of the His Majesty YDP Agong is officially addressed as "Her Majesty Permaisuri Agong" and not as"The First Lady" which may have been misunderstood by the public, including some spin doctors. Her Majesty Permaisuri Agong takes precedence over 'The First Lady' in all official and unofficial functions, both locally as well as internationally.

Needless to say, there is nothing wrong or suspicious about the role and the use of the official address of "The First Lady" for the wife of the prime minister. However, it would be the right protocol and etiquette to officially address the wife of the prime minister as "The First Lady or our First Lady" in the presence of foreign guests and dignitaries as a formal official respect to our PM's wife. However, it may not be appropriate to address PM's wife as "The First Lady" in local social functions or even at wedding receptions.

I believe all our former "First Ladies" like Tun Siti Hasmah and Tun Jean Abdullah as well as currently Datin Seri Rosmah will not fuss over such a trivial protocol issue, which has never affected their respective official positions as the wife of the Malaysian prime minister and Head of Government.

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