By Kee Thuan Chye
10 Jan 2014
Are Prime Minister Najib Razak’s consultants conspiring to escalate his downfall? The latest idea of having his picture appear on limited edition ang-pow (red packets) for Chinese New Year (CNY) to be distributed through his Chinese Facebook page is making him look increasingly like an egomaniac hankering for cult status. Did he dream it up himself or did they?
Unfortunately for him, the very community he is reaching out to has already come to hate him all the more. Its members are more likely to stamp on the face on the ang-pow than put money in it to give to their family members during the festive period. So, instead of improving Najib’s public relations image, this ang-pow move will only make it worse.
Apparently, Najib’s consultants have not learned from the beating Najib took when his picture appeared on 100Plus cans in June 2102. On that occasion, netizens lambasted him and the company that produces the isotonic drink, some calling for a boycott of the product.
Among the printable comments are “100Plus sales figure definitely will drop.”, “Boycott 100Plus!”, “Najib, why must your face be on 100Plus? A lot of people hate you. Haha!”, “Dalam tin ada cacing.” (There are worms in the can.)
It caused the company enough concern for it to respond with a statement clarifying that the picture on the can was a sticker printed for Najib when he visited the company’s booth at an event in Putrajaya. In other words, it wasn’t promoting Najib.
Netizens, however, were not placated. “Sorry, boycott already on because of that sticker,” said one. “I love 100 plus so much … but I will boycott 100Plus now,” said another. “I’ve loved 100Plus lifelong. Until that sticker was there. Some things you can’t un-see,” said yet another.
Najib’s consultants have also not learned from last year’s public relations exercise conducted during CNY. Then, Najib also appeared in a video dressed in Chinese costume and beating a Chinese big drum, followed by his wishing Chinese viewers “Gong Xi Fa Cai”. Instead of drawing applause for that effort, however, he was pelted with brickbats. Some were as derisive as “Stupidest video ever” or “Aiyer … geli!” (Makes one’s hair stand on end!) Numerous commentors called him “an absolute clown”.
Ang-pows bearing his face were also given out then, much to the horror of Chinese traditionalists who believe that having a human face on an ang-pow can presage bad luck. It also prompted feedback on social media ridiculing this unprecedented act. One of the worst (printable) comments I can remember went like this: “If you want to give your family bad luck, give them the ang-pow with Najib’s face!”
Ah, well. Perhaps we have a prime minister who is a sucker for punishment. That’s why he has agreed to a repetition of last year’s folly. Already, some comments by netizens on his Facebook page (under his Chinese moniker Ah Jib Gor, which roughly translates to Elder Brother Najib) responding to this year’s ang-pow stunt have reportedly been deleted, presumably because they were full of abuse and ridicule.
On Malaysiakini, readers commenting on the online news website’s report about it say things like “Please … enough is enough! 2014 is already going to be a bleak year for us. Let us enjoy our CNY without having to be constantly reminded of your double-talk … Ajib, have you no shame at all?” Or “Another shameless gimmick done in poor taste aimed at self-promotion using public money. Fill the ang-pows with hell notes and burn them.”
The comments reflect much anger, but in some of them, there is good sense as well, such as “The Government should save money and not do silly things like this. The PM will get more support if he effectively addresses the issues raised in the Auditor-General’s report.” Or “How can you win with tricks when everyone sees through them? Try doing genuine and sincere work instead by implementing just policies with strong enforcement. The Chinese will definitely flock back to you.”
It’s pathetic, on the whole, to see a prime minister try so hard to be popular when it’s obvious he is not. In fact, even his detractors might be moved to feel embarrassed for him.
But then, he’s had it coming to him, especially of late when, only several months after his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won the 13th general election with a slim margin (and losing the popular vote, to boot), he cut petrol and sugar subsidies and raised electricity tariffs, thereby adding to the financial burden of Malaysians. These are actions that are ill-advised for a prime minister with a tenuous mandate. It must mean that the country’s reserves are nearly depleted for him to resort to such measures.
Besides, if he had acted thus while demonstrating that he has been practising austerity himself, he might be hated less. But from reports, he has instead been extravagant in spending public funds. Furthermore, over the new year period, he was away overseas, apparently in the U.S., and that prompted speculation that he was having a good time while the rakyat were bracing to face a dismal 2014.
At this rate, the odds for Najib to gain any amount of popularity in the near future are incredibly slim. If he thinks he can succeed, he is deluding himself. Talk to people on the streets today, people of any race who have to work for their daily living, and you can bet that a high percentage will have something negative to say about Najib and his government.
If he were to call for a snap general election now, he will be in for a nasty surprise. Or, perhaps, not quite a surprise. In fact, if he can’t weather the pressure that is currently mounting against him from many sides, he himself could be in for a fall. With or without the help of his consultants.
Perhaps it’s time for a change then. Of consultants, I mean.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.