Swapping Bentleys for Carriages: Najib’s 1MDB fairy tale

swiss-image.ch/Photo Michael Wuertenberg

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is on a riches-to-rags campaign to reinvent himself as a champion of the people. The problem is, people don’t believe in fairy tales.

Editorial

In the Cinderella fairy tale, poor Cinderella is reduced to wearing rags and spends her days serving her step-mother and step-sisters. Her fairy godmother magically appears one evening and grants her wish to attend the Prince’s ball, giving her a break from service for a night. 

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak wishes for the opposite of Cinderella. He hopes to make his former lavish lifestyle disappear– a wish that will certainly require the work of a fairy godmother.

While Najib was supposed to be serving the Malaysian people, he became embroiled in the multi-billion-dollar 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fraud case. He now stands accused of 39 criminal charges relating to the theft of some US$4.5 billion. The first corruption trial begins on Tuesday, in which the former prime minister will stand trial for seven charges pertaining to US$10.3 million transferred from a 1MDB unit into his personal account. He has plead not guilty.

Najib is trying to lose his glass slippers

While he is without a fairy godmother, Najib has an army of social media followers and the attention of the Malaysian press. He is using all the powers this brings him to try and shed his image as a member of Malaysia’s wealthy elite ahead of the 1MDB trial.

Since his arrest in 2018, the former PM has attempted to rebrand himself as a champion of the Malaysian working classes. Last month, wearing a black hoodie, jeans and sneakers, Najib posed atop the Yamaha Y15ZR moped popular with Malaysian youth.

Photo Credit: Najib Razak/Facebook

While on the campaign trail in Cameron Highlands, Najib was also pictured riding pillion without a helmet, eating at hawker stalls and posing for selfies with Malaysians.

Najib’s public talking points have also reflected his newfound interest in the plight of the working classes. He has publicly discussed the retail price of fish, the price of food in school cafeterias, and the difficulties Malaysian taxi drivers face.

The former PM has been visiting Malaysians in their homes, sitting on their floors, and, surprisingly, frequently posting about his gym sessions. He is just another working Malaysian right?

Just your average Malaysian with US$268 million in goods sitting in his apartment

In a post published on Najib’s Facebook page on January 12th, he lamented, “I feel sad. The people can no longer see the government as a support system. The government no longer has the people at heart.”

Najib suggests that unlike his government, the new government does not have “the people at heart”. However, he must think Malaysians have a short memory. Under Najib, 22% of Malaysian children living in affordable housing suffered from a stunted growth due to malnourishment. Yet, when police raided his luxury properties following Najib’s general election defeat in May, they seized goods worth 1.1 billion ringgit (US$268 million).

Investigators also found a fleet of at least nine luxury cars registered to the former PM and his family, including a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a BMW and several Mercedes’.

Speaking about the seizure of jewellery, cash, and other luxury goods from Najib and his wife, Rosmah’s property, Abdul Aziza, a Malaysian courier driver marvelled at their audacity. “How did she accumulate such wealth when the majority of us live a modest life?” he asked.

If anything, Najib’s attempts to recast himself as a champion of ordinary Malaysians has only helped demonstrate precisely how disconnected his government was with ordinary Malays. Recent pictures of him sitting cross-legged in people’s homes evoke memories of previous home visits he made to his constituents when he was PM. On these visits he would bring a special seat to avoid sitting on the floor.

Even the Cameron Highlands by-election victory, which saw Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) increase it’s share of the vote from 13.7% in GE14 to 54-7%, exposed the flaws in Najib’s government. The issues that are present in Cameron Highlands, which BN’s Ramli Mohd Nor has pledged to tackle, were ignored by the previous government. The local schools are woeful, the infrastructure lacking, and corruption is rife. Where was Najib’s government which had “the people at heart”?

Najib is the only one who believes in fairy tales

Najib’s lawyer said, “our client is of the view that if he get’s a fair trial, then the truth will show itself to the public.” The truth has already shown itself to the public. Najib wants to recast his public image ahead of what will be very difficult and very public trial for him. 

Cinderella’s story has a happy ending as she finds her prince who whisks her away from a life of rags and subservience. In Najib’s fairy tale, no doubt, he is hoping for a similar happy ending in his graft cases. But even when public service was his job, Najib was far from subservient to the Malay people.