By that I mean home-grown titles and awards like Tun, Tan Sri and Datuk, not overseas titles.
Please correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, never received any local titles even after he retired.
It is not that persons of royal lineage can’t be bestowed with such titles. For example, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the former Finance Minister who apparently received a Tan Sriship in 1972 when he was 35.
Apart from that, the following are probably the only high profile politicans who never received any honorifics during their tenure, not that they didn’t receive any offers, and only accepted them when they retired.
Tan Sri Mohd Khir Johari (1923–2006), the former Minister of Education, Member of Parliament for 27 years from 1955 and served in the Cabinet of three Prime Ministers, turned down several offers of the “Datuk” title. It was only when he quit politics in 1986 that he finally accepted a Tan Sri title in the same year.
He explained thus:
…I have this very important principle that while you are in active service politically, you shouldn’t accept any title. Your value, your achievements should be valued after your retirement, so that people can see what you’ve really done. Winston Churchill, for example, didn’t get his title until after his retirement. This is a principle which I don’t force on anybody but myself.
Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu (1919 – 2010), Chief Minister of Penang for 21 years, from 1969 to 1990, dubbed the “Architect of Modern Penang”, only accepted a Tunship after retiring from politics in 1990. Before that, he’d rejected all state and national honours offered to him, and that while he was Penang CM was addressed simply as Dr Lim.
Tun Ghafar Baba (1925-2006), Chief Minister of Melaka from 1959 to 1967 and Deputy Prime Minister from 1986 to 1993. During his career, he refused any kind of honorific, preferring to be known as plain Encik Ghafar. It was only after he retired from politics in 1993 that he was persuaded to accept the Tunship which happened in 1995. He was also what one could call a regular man. For example, he did not allow police outriders near his home in order not to “disturb the neighbours,” and for many years, he slept in a simple bed in a corner of his living room.
Salute, these are the kind of guys who only accepted titles when they were more likely to execute those Medicare part D plan than delve into those humdrum work files.