By Kee Thuan Chye | Malaysiakini
It looks like Prime Minister and Barisan Nasional (BN) chief Najib Razak has outdone himself at self-debasement. His appearance in the now much-talked-about Chinese New Year advertisement has not only shown his desperation to win Chinese votes in the soon-to-be-held general election; it has also elicited responses from viewers full of derision and contempt.
I showed it to someone who is non-partisan, sensible, well-educated and who exercises good judgment, and these were her reactions as she watched it:
“Hak sei ngor! (Shocking)” … “Unheard of” … “Eeyer! Geli! (Makes my skin crawl)” … “Trying too hard”.
Her remarks are uncannily similar to those that have been expressed on Facebook by many other Malaysians.
In the advertisement, as Chinese New Year preparations are under way, a little girl brings out a small drum to play. A figure suddenly appears. To instil a sense of mystery, the video shows only his legs. He asks the girl, “Do you know how to beat a drum?” Then we see the man for the first time, but only the lower part of his face. Najib’s famous pink lips and moustache are instantly recognisable!
It is at the recognition of Najib that my friend gasped, “Hak sei ngor!”
The girl gives Najib her drum. But why? We don’t know. Going by his question, wasn’t he supposed to show her how to beat a drum?
The scene changes, and the lyrical background music gives way to drum beats. We then see a close-up of a pair of hands beating a large Chinese drum with sticks. A lion’s head appears. The girl gasps. Firecrackers are set off. A lion dance is on. More drummers join in. A crowd watches the dance with awe. But after a while, their expressions change to curiosity. One or two crane their necks to get a better view of the drummers. More firecrackers explode.
Then an elderly man lets out a cry of surprise. No wonder! The drummer is revealed in full glory. It is – lo and behold! – none other than Najib! Wearing a red Chinese costume, Najib beats the drum once, twice, then flings both arms out like an eagle to signify the end of the performance with a cry of “Hah!”.
At this point, my friend exclaimed, “Eeyer! Geli!”
The smiling crowd applauds. More firecrackers explode. Next we see the girl whispering something in Najib’s ear. A smiling Najib says something back to her. This is followed by a shot of a Chinese word on a piece of red paper and then of Najib, hands clasped together, wishing everyone, “Gong Xi Fa Cai.”
My friend had a good laugh. “He’s trying too hard,” she remarked.
Paying attention to detail
On Facebook, those who know Chinese criticised the writing of the Chinese word and pointed out it should have instead been written as “吉”, with the upper horizontal line being longer than the bottom one. In the advertisement, it is rendered the other way around, which apparently connotes bad luck.
And since the word denotes an approximation of “Jib”, which Najib has come to adopt as his Chinese name (Ah Jib), it doesn’t forebode well for him.
One really wonders why his advisers did not pay attention to detail. And why they did not caution him that performing in this advertisement might bring him lower in public esteem.
To be sure, there were some Netizens who expressed appreciation for the advertisement and his role in it, but far more were full of ridicule.
“Oh, gosh! This ad actually made my mind go blank for a good five minutes … that’s before I burst into laughter. Stupidest ad ever!” wrote one. And this was among the milder ones.
On Najib’s performance, many said it was “lawak” (clownish). One called him “an absolute clown”, another called him “Maharaja lawak” (king of clowns).
A kinder critic wrote, “We do not need a PM who can play drums, we need a PM who can stop corruption.”
In almost the same vein: “Dear PM, we would like to see you spend more time managing the country rather than carry out a PR exercise like this.”
And of course, some demanded to know how much of the people’s money was spent on this “desperate act by a desperate PM”.
Also, because the advertisement endorsed the burning of firecrackers, which is actually banned in Malaysia, one Netizen summed up the sentiment surrounding this issue by commenting, “Sejak bila kaum Tiong Hua dibenarkan membakar mercun? Janji tidak ditepati!” (Since when has the Chinese community been allowed to burn firecrackers? Promise unfulfilled!)
A most telling comment was the one that echoed my friend’s: “Aiyer … geli!”
And the one that sought to predict the near future: “Hahahaha … jawatan baru lepas kalah PRU13 … Ketua Ketuk Gendang Tarian Singa!” (Hahahaha … new job after losing GE13 … Head Lion Dance Drummer!)
Najib’s public relations advisers have truly mucked up. Strategies such as putting out this advertisement to try and win votes can, in fact, have the reverse effect. They annoy people.
It’s the same with the letters, postcards, SMSes that BN has been sending out wishing people Happy Chinese New Year or Happy Birthday or greeting them during other festivals. It freaks people out that BN is privy to their private particulars, like their birthdate or their mobile phone number.
The recent Chinese New Year letter is accompanied by ang-pow packets with Najib’s face on them. What a waste of money printing them! Who is going to use ang-pow packets with his face on them? For some Chinese, it could mean bad luck!
Normally, ang-pow packets carry symbols of happiness, luck, prosperity or the image of the animal of that year. Never the face of a person. A person steeped in Chinese culture said to me, “Even Mao Zedong never had his face on a red packet!”
Obviously, Najib’s advisers are not well-versed in Chinese culture. They were also not smart in getting the Korean K-Pop sensation Psy to perform his ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ number at the BN Open House in Penang on the second day of Chinese New Year.
Obviously, the event was meant to attract a mammoth crowd so that BN could boast that it and Najib had the support of Penangites. But as it turned out, most of the people who went for it were not there for Najib but for Psy. And once Psy’s performance was over, many left in droves. That took the thunder away from Najib.
More than that, cynical questions were raised about the astronomical cost of bringing Psy in for such a brief performance. Even though the organisers said that a private sponsor underwrote it, the gesture showed a penchant for extravagance that starkly contrasted the difficult economic times, especially for common Malaysians coping with the rising prices of essential goods.
As for winning votes, one doubts Penangites would be fooled into siding BN just because it brought Psy in to perform for them. However BN may underestimate their intelligence, Penangites are not stupid.
Sure enough, just before Psy was about to appear, Najib asked the crowd three times, “Are you ready for Psy?” and each time the crowd shouted, “Yes!” But when he followed that with the ill-advised question, “Are you ready for BN?”, the crowd replied with a resounding “No!” And he foolishly asked it three times as well, each time getting the same negative reply. Frankly, he looked stupid. So much for Malaysia’s prime minister.
One Netizen summed it up aptly on Facebook: “The irony for BN is they spent close to RM3,000,000 for a publicity stunt that backfired, and it became a people’s forum to say NO to BN.”
In his desperation to ensure victory for BN at the coming general election – and especially the two-thirds majority that he may need in order to keep his job – is Najib aware that he is losing his self-respect?
Well, the way he’s been going around begging the people to keep BN in power for another term; the lack of confidence he exhibited when he said on Jan 5 that he hoped he would still be prime minister to have the opportunity to open KLIA2 on June 28; the cash handouts he’s been throwing out to win the people’s favour; and now the Chinese New Year advertisement and Psy circus, he seems willing to do anything to attain his desperate goal. Even if it means losing his dignity.
Perhaps he thinks that if he keeps doing it, people will kesian (pity) him and give him sympathy votes. But any way you look at it, that’s really pathetic. Especially for the person who holds the nation’s highest office. What he needs to understand is that people will not respect him if he doesn’t respect himself. And without respect, he has no business being PM.
Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!