‘Make clear distinction between Najib the convicted ex-PM and social media persona’

Datuk Seri Najib Razak created ‘history’ by leading Barisan Nasional (BN) to a massive defeat in the 2018 general election – en route to the coalition losing Putrajaya.

Yet, Najib’s popularity has spiked, prompting a non-governmental organisation and business owners in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, among others, to believe the former prime minister can solve the people’s woes.

That is despite the Court of Appeal upholding a 12-year jail sentence and RM210 million fine handed to him over the misappropriation of RM42 million belonging to SRC International Sdn Bhd.

He has been granted a stay, pending his appeal to the Federal Court.

Associate Professor Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk said some Malaysians were still reaching out to Najib due to his popularity on social media.

Najib has 4.6 million followers on Facebook, 4.2 million followers on Twitter and 983,000 followers on Instagram.

“This despite him being a convicted felon with a 12-year conviction on his head,” said Azeem, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Centre for Policy Research and International Studies director.

“Najib has used social media wisely after the fall of BN. This whole (Malu apa) Bossku phenomenon has caught the public’s imagination.

“Thus, people believe that he can fulfil or relay their demands to the government of the day.”

On Jan 6, the Malaysian Muslim Consumer Association (PPIM) appealed to Najib, urging the Employees Provident Fund to allow another round of withdrawals.

On Sunday, 15 business operators met Najib in a restaurant in Bangsar as they hoped the government would extend their operation times to beyond midnight.

Azeem credited Najib’s social media team, saying they had crafted his public image wisely.

“Najib’s Facebook page is popular. He knows where to go and what to say.

“His social media team has done a great job in rebranding him.

“But the keyword here is social media.”

Azeem highlighted that it was just a matter of months before the Federal Court decides on his SRC International case.

“While Najib is popular, whether he can make a difference or not, is another matter.

“He still is invited to events and conferences. Malaysians need to make a clear distinction between Najib, the former prime minister who is facing serious charges, and him being a social media persona.”

The academician said the country faced a peculiar situation as traditionally, the prime minister was the president of Umno and that the party enjoyed a majority in the Cabinet.

“Never before in Malaysia, the government is led by an Umno vice-president (Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob), and Umno is not the dominant party. The government of the day remains very shaky.

“Ismail Sabri and Najib may hail from the party, but they have different interests.

“Ismail Sabri wants to survive and keep his ship afloat, but there are those within Umno who hope to unseat him (as prime minister).

“A few in Umno are at odds with Najib. (Health minister) Khairy Jamaluddin is not a big fan either.”

Azeem said NGOs and business owners should instead communicate directly to the government.

“PPIM can send their demands straight to the prime minister. The business operators in Bangsar can go through their business chambers or associations. The government should listen to them.

“Why not use their associations as their platform. They do not have to go through Najib.”

He also found it odd that those no longer in the office are getting popular.

“Even (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin Yassin is gaining followers. It is peculiar that people are siding with losers.

“In Najib’s case, it seems that people are not looking at the seriousness of what the courts have decided.”

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