"Just Throw A Stone In The Street And You'll Hit A Datuk"

AFP recently released an article on the abundance of people carrying the Malay royal title "Datuk" in Malaysia. Are there too many?

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Malaysia Has One Of The World's Highest Rates Of Royal Title-Holders

Malaysia has one of the world's highest rates of royal title-holders – estimates run into the tens of thousands – thanks to a centuries-old royal patronage system linked to its now-ceremonial Malay sultans.

Self-styled royal Raja Noor Jan Shah Raja Tuah Shah (R) adjusts an official dress for title "Datuk" at his palace ahead of a private function in Gombak, on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur, on September 7, 2013. (AFP Photo/Mohd Rasfan)

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"Just Throw A Stone In The Street And You'll Hit A Datuk."

"Just throw a stone in the street and you'll hit a Datuk," complains Datuk K. Basil, a policeman-turned-politician and one of many who feel the awarding of the coveted titles has got out of hand in a status-obsessed Malaysian society.

The Title Of "Datuk" Is Akin To A British Knighthood But Far More Common

Malay sultans ceremonially rule nine states – alternating as Malaysia's figurehead king every five years – and can bestow a range of titles on honoured citizens. The most common, Datuk, is akin to a British knighthood but far more common.

Michelle Yeoh accepted the title Datuk Seri in 2012.

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Titles Purportedly Help Protect Bearers From Prosecution And Gain Access To Policy-Makers

Malay cultural expert Eddin Khoo said titles are widely abused for their clout and connections in a country where corruption is widespread. The perks begin with an official crest for a Datuk's car, "to show money is rolling by," said Khoo.

As far back as 2004, former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad — now retired, and a Tun — warned of a title glut. “If you produce a million Ferrari cars, nobody will care about buying a Ferrari,” he said.

A photo of royalty car crest in Malaysia.

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Some Malaysian royalty have complained more recently of ill-behaved Datuks and of agents who allegedly claim to broker investitures.

In one case, businessman Datuk Koay Khay Chye pleaded guilty in 2010 to drug possession. The case created an uproar when it was reported he had retained his title despite earlier convictions for theft, firearms offences and corruption.

"It Is An Open Secret That Datukships Are For Sale By Cheats."

Photo of Thomas Su, from Facebook.

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“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,” said opposition parliamentarian Thomas Su.

Media Reports Suggest Self-Styled Royal Noor Jan Shah Raja Tuah Shah Has Sold Hundreds Of Dubious Investitures

Noor Jan entered a recent function in Malaysia's government headquarters of Putrajaya, resplendent in a royal-yellow military-style suit studded with medals and epaulets, trailed by an entourage of his "Datuks" to the beat of traditional Malay musicians. He admits taking cash "donations" from recipients, but denies selling titles.

Self-styled royal Raja Noor Jan Shah Raja Tuah Shah and his wife Zaidatul Mardiah Yussuf pose for pictures by a throne before attending a private function at their palace in Gombak, on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur, on September 7, 2013

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"We could easily take hundreds of thousands of ringgit. But you see, we are still driving an old car," he said, referring to his vintage Porsche sportscar.

"It Has Been Going On For The Last 10 Years, This Problem Of Datuks Being Given Out (By Self-Proclaimed Royals)"

Danny Ooi, president of the Council of Federal Datuks, said people like Noor Jan must be stopped, "It has been going on for the last 10 years, this problem of Datuks being given out (by self-proclaimed royals)."

But Ooi admits money often changes hands even for legitimate investitures, though he terms it, “more as a contribution.”

Even Jackie Chan is now a Datuk...

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