Tuesday, February 8, 2011


 Howl Pillai (as he prefers to be known) is a an old friend of mine, we worked together for a while in 1976. When you meet a gem like this howling Pillai its difficult to forget him. Howl  writes and he writes some really classic articles. Here is one I wish to share with you, and he has promised to be featured more often on my blog.

By Howl!!! Pillai

Without a doubt, Malaysia is truly Asia! And so when it comes to a quick survey of First Ladies we will stick to Asia. Better still, South East Asia, in the spirit of ASEAN

Poor Myanmar. She does not have a First Lady. The Head of State is a senior general, whatever that means (perhaps it means general-mentor). Besides the wife of the junta chief does not qualify as one. 

And so on to Thailand. She is a constitutional monarchy with a king, a queen and a naughty crown prince. It will be insulting to Queen Sirikit to call her a First Lady. She is better than that. The wife of the prime minister of Thailand is called the wife of the prime minister. 

Now to Laos. No First Ladies here. And if perchance there were any, they would be as rare as sighting the legendary white elephant. 

Singapore ? They have a President as Head of State, so they should have a First Lady. But when one cannot even remember the president’s name why bother the First Lady ? 

Brunei is a sultanate in the old tradition. Changes in wife are more frequent than changes in government. And then there are favourite queens and consorts. No identifiable First Ladies here. 

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy in theory but not always in practice. The current King, Siharmony is a bachelor. Well,six down and four to go.....

Indonesia’s Head of State is the President. They have a First Lady. She, like her predecessors, stays in the shadows although they can be a pillar of strength to the President and the nation in  strange ways. 

A prominent Indonesian social historian said this of Tien Suharto, the wife of the late strongman: “When Suharto rose to power, people believed that his wife had the ‘wahyu’, the flaming womb, and whoever united with her would get the ‘wahyu’. After her death the wahyu has gone”. 

Now to Vietnam. The First Lady here is extremely discreet perhaps on account of a notorious predecessor, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. She was the wife of the brother of the President of the Republic of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, a bachelor and a devout Catholic circa the 1950s and early 60s. 

She and her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu moved into the Presidential Palace. The government than was a family business- the brothers, wives and relatives of the president held plum ministerial posts and appointments. 

In this milieu, Madame Nhu first passed herself off as First Lady-in -law. Later like our UMNO baru saga, the inconveniently attached words were dropped. Madame Nhu once famously said : “Power is wonderful. And total power is totally wonderful”. 

Later still when the Buddhist monk Thich carried out an act of self-immolation in protest against the persecution of Buddhists, she called his act a “barbeque”.

Next. We can always count on the Philippines to add real colour to anything including this quick survey of ASEAN First Ladies. The current President Aquino is a bachelor but who can ever forget Imelda Marcos. 

The one and only ! Over a span of some 50 years she was ASEAN's longest running soap opera. Compared to her, ‘Desperate Housewives’ is tame stuff indeed. She famously and variously said the following:
“Win or lose, we go shopping after the election”
“I am First Lady by accident. I was not elected by the people but here I am”
“I was born ostentatious. They will list my name in the dictionary. They will use ‘Imeldific’ to mean ostentatious extravagance”
“Never dress down for the poor. They won’t respect you for it. They want their First Ladies to look like a million dollars”
“The Philippines is in a strategic position. It is both East and West, Right and Left, rich and poor. We are neither here nor there”
“They call me corrupt, frivolous. I am not at all privileged. Maybe the only privileged thing is my face. And corrupt ? God ! I would not look like this if I was corrupt. Some ugliness would settle down in my system”
“I am like Robin Hood. I rob the rich to make these projects come alive.....not really rob. It is done with a smile”
And I must end with this exquisite gem:

“If Imelda can make it, everybody else can “

Oh dear ! That's  only nine out of the Asean Ten. 

I have left out Malaysia ! I am getting old and unpatriotic! And forgetful too. Do we really need to talk about our ‘First Lady’ ? We leave that to our free and unfettered press.


1 comment:

  1. In Indonesia the first lady is always referred to as Ibu, which means mother in English