By Kee Thuan Chye
Tuesday, 01 February 2011
NO less than the Prime Minister has just spammed me! In an e-mail wishing me Happy Chinese New Year. I’m not pleased. In fact, when I got the e-mail, I freaked out. How did he get my address? I take strong umbrage against whoever gave it to him. It is an invasion of my privacy.
Najib Razak (or rather, his assistants) reportedly sent out that e-mail to 1.5 million people. The Star reported that many were happy to get it – in a report quoting only three people. And two of them had Muslim-sounding names! From the tweets I’ve seen, it seems many Muslims have been getting the e-mail too. Some tweeters considered the greeting “insincere”, some suggested reporting the matter to Cyber 999 and even the police.
Many questioned how Najib or his assistants got their e-mail addresses. There’s a theory going round that it came from the database of a media conglomerate. If this is true, the practice is, of course, not right. It contravenes the cyberworld law of data privacy. Whoever gave the data to him showed that they did not respect that privacy.
My wife got a CNY greeting from Najib too – via an SMS. Did her telco give her number to Najib and Co? Is that a proper thing to do? This episode shows that the personal details of Malaysians are not safe from prying and abuse. And that Big Brother is watching. That’s a scary prospect.
Najib’s greeting is yet another of the public relations campaigns he has been mounting for more than a year now. Those who are aware realize they are nothing more than efforts to win votes for the next general election, but there are plenty of others who are not so clued-in.
This Chinese New Year campaign seems to have had an effect, especially on fence-sitters. Some of them said they were touched. They seemed swayed into believing that the PM cared enough to send them the greeting. This is not surprising, because gullible Malaysians often fall for cheap tricks all too easily. The number who have fallen victim to Internet scams must be substantial. As a politician of long experience, Najib must surely know that.
More public relations at work can be seen in the awarding of datukships in conjunction with Federal Territory Day. The number of Indians being awarded this year is relatively high. Seen in relation to Barisan Nasional’s bid to sustain its regaining of the Indian vote, this is to be expected.
Among the awardees, also expected, is K Rajagopal, the national football coach who recently guided his team to winning the small-time AFF Suzuki Cup. I’ve written before that his achievement in that competition is not something worthy of a datukship, but we all know that football ranks high in the popular Malaysian imagination, so not only has Rajagopal been made a datuk; also awarded is former football ace Santokh Singh.
Najib’s own special assistant, Ravindren Chelliah Ponniah, also gets to be a datuk. So do a couple of other Singhs. And guess who else? R Thanenthiran, president of Parti Makkal Sakthi Malaysia. For what? For forsaking Hindraf and crossing to the other side?
What about the Datuk Seri title for the president of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), M Kayveas? What has Kayveas done of late to deserve this higher award? That’s how the next general election is going to be won – by public relations. Of which BN being in government has plenty of resources to invest in.
Similarly, it has the resources to hijack Pakatan Rakyat’s recently announced pledge to abolish toll on all highways within 100 days of coming to power. A few days ago, Najib declared – in perfect time for the Tenang by-election – that the toll for the Salak to Taman Connaught stretch on the East-West Link Expressway would be abolished by May. He also announced that the toll for two other expressways would not be increased for the next five years. According to him, no compensation would be paid to the highway concessionaires, implying that it would not cost taxpayers anything.
Whether this is true remains to be seen. An engineer of long experience in the relevant industry that I spoke to is very sceptical about it. He feels that there will be other ways of compensation made to the concessionaires that will ultimately involve payment by the rakyat.
Last December, when Pakatan Rakyat announced its pledge to abolish tolls, Najib pooh-poohed it and said it was irresponsible. But now he’s going for it himself. He has even hinted that there will be more good news on the same subject soon. I suspect he will make the North-South Expressway toll-free. He might announce this on the eve of the next general election and make a major score from it. If that happens, you can bet that the taxpayer will not be able to avoid compensating the concessionaires in one way or another. Regardless of what Najib might say then to the contrary.
We have to be circumspect. We have to learn not to be so easily fooled. On the surface, a proposition may sound good, but there can be hidden drawbacks underlying it which of course will be kept secret at the time of announcement. We have also to be aware that all these public relations efforts made by Najib are intended for one main purpose. Apart from that, they also distract public attention from the questionable goings-on.
Only last week, it was revealed that there is now a new department in the Prime Minister’s Office called FLOM – for First Lady of Malaysia – manned by a staff of six. And it looks after the operational needs of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.
Never in our history has there ever been such a department. It reeks of nepotism and other things besides. Why should the PM’s wife have a department all to herself? Are there institutionalized provisions for such a thing? Who is paying for the upkeep of this department? We need to snap out of our distracted state and pressure Najib to justify the setting-up of FLOM. Let’s see how his public relations advisers will respond to that. For CNY, they came up with spam; for FLOM, will they come up with flam?
Just for fun, here are two Urban Dictionary definitions of “flom” – 1) To untie someone’s shoe lace while they aren’t looking, so they get pissed off and have to retie it (e.g. “Hey, stop it! This is the fifth time you’ve flommed me!”); 2) to do something sexual to someone of the opposite sex.
Either way you look at it, it sounds naughty!