The former prime minister, who is trying to re-invent himself, is the same person whose home was found stashed with loads of cash and valuables not too long ago, recalls Mustafa K Anuar.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak has in recent times projected himself as a changed man.
Apart from the fact that he is an opposition politician, he also cuts the persona of a politician whose deep concern for the wellbeing of ordinary Malaysians is close to his heart.
The lavish lifestyle and globetrotting shopping spree of then prime minister Najib and wife, Rosmah Mansor, virtually put them apart from the rest of the ordinary people before his downfall on 9 May last year.
In contrast, the recent Cameron Highlands by-election, in which Barisan Nasional (BN) retained its seat, saw Najib portraying himself as a man of the people. His campaigning in the run-up to the polling day was conspicuous to the extent that some credited him with BN’s win. Others perceived his active stunt at the hustings as an attempt at making a political comeback.
Whatever the case may be, he was seen rubbing shoulders with Felda settlers, particularly the youth in Cameron Highlands, where his popularity soared. He rode pillion on a bike into these settlements obviously to show that he was not taking them for a ride.
The ex-prime minister, who led BN to its defeat at the 2018 general election, fervently hit the ground (turun padang) to attract voters to his coalition, particularly in areas where there were pockets of economic hardship.
Prior to the by-election, he busily met with people in the working-class areas of Ampang, Gombak and Kampung Kerinchi. Articulating their bread-and-butter concerns could well earn himself the mantle of a working-class hero, especially at a time when the cost of living has not been dealt with adequately by the current administration.
Najib even promised taxi drivers, who now are facing competition from e-hailing service provider Grab, he would look into their problems, such as helping them to acquire People’s Housing Project homes.
To be sure, this same person, whose home was found stashed with loads of cash and valuables not too long ago, is now expressing the concerns of the ordinary folks, such as the increased prices of eggs and water tariff hikes.
He was also the prime minister who once advised ordinary folk to eat kangkong (spinach), which was supposed to be more affordable – while he himself had stopped eating rice in favour of expensive quinoa.
As intimated above, Najib now embraces swiftly the narrative of the marginalised and the poor, ie the supposedly neglected victims of the present government.
He and his party, Umno, and thanks to the cooperation with Pas, have successfully exploited the fear – manufactured or otherwise – of rural Malays regarding race and religion.
It was said that Najib was coy about having press conferences during his tenure as prime minister, but conversely, he has now become vocal and expressive as illustrated by his prolific writings and snide remarks on Facebook and Twitter.
He has become so strident in his criticism of the present government – and at the same time has maintained his innocence – via social media that he has earned the title of “King of Trolls”.
In fact, his purported shyness of yore has now petered out to the extent that he unabashedly rides on the popular slogan among Malay youth of “Malu apa Bossku?” (What’s there to be ashamed of, Boss?). Why, there is even a short audio clip of a Malay rap song accompanying a still photo of Najib on a scooter with the phrase “Malu apa Bossku” by the side, which has gone viral.
The Cameron Highlands by-election win may well spur him on to do things that others would consider outlandish, especially when the irony of his character is lost on his fandom.
Those who do not jive with this rap narrative would see him as being too brazen for their liking because after all, he is the politician who is going on trial for the biggest corruption case ever in the country’s history. A tinge of remorse, they’d say, would do him good, even if it is fabricated.
But the public conduct of the ex-prime minister lately seems to suggest that he subscribes to the notion that being on the offensive is the best form of defence. Besides, this strategy squares well with the notion that most Malaysians tend to have short memories.
Najib even produced a Malay version of The Manhattan’s 1970s soul ballad Kiss and Say Goodbye together with a group of youngsters in a bid to pour scorn on Pakatan Harapan and redeem himself at the same time. The rendition was obviously targeted at the youth.
In comparison, many of the former prime ministers in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have retired, attempted a comeback in a respectable manner, gone into business or engaged on a nationwide speaking circuit.
Australia’s Kevin Rudd, for example, went a step further by setting up the National Apology Foundation for Indigenous Australians aimed at closing the poverty gap among affected groups. Rudd, when he was in office, was known for delivering a formal apology to indigenous Australians for crimes committed against them, particularly the forced removal of indigenous children from their families by the state.
Najib, on the other hand, seems contented with assuming a role somewhat befitting an opposition politician, although at times bizarre in nature. The forthcoming Semenyih by-election affords him the opportunity to strut his stuff again.
We wait with bated breath and a chocolate bar in hand.