Najib and Rosmah – the battle of public perception


Najib and Rosmah – the battle of public perception
By Zan Azlee

The value of all the items and cash seized from properties linked to former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, has finally been revealed. The amount is now publicly known and fast spreading through social media postings and memes.

But for everyone’s information (or amusement), the total estimated market value of the items is RM1.1 billion. The breakdown of the estimated actual value is RM116.7 million in cash of various currencies, handbags worth RM51.3 million, watches valued at RM78 million, sunglasses valued at RM374,000 and jewellery worth RM440 million.

Of course, everyone knows that Najib and Rosmah are innocent until proven guilty. However, can you imagine how Malaysians actually feel? They must have been very shocked and angry at the fact that they have so much wealth when everyone else is struggling to survive.

For years, accusations and allegations of corruption surrounding Najib and Rosmah have been rife. Of course, the 1MDB scandal is a little too complicated for the common Malaysian to really grasp. But now, everything seems to be a lot more ‘visual’.

Before it ever came to this, Najib and Rosmah (well, mainly Najib when he was in power) would outwardly deny any wrongdoing. When things became more critical, especially with damning evidence coming out, he and his administration made it illegal for the issue to be discussed, whether in public or in Parliament.

The attorney-general then (under the BN administration) concluded everything by just saying that all investigations had been done and there was absolutely no wrongdoing when it came to the any of the accusations and allegations relating to 1MDB.

Everyone had to shut up. Malaysians were told that they had to accept that the case was now closed. It didn’t matter that investigations were still being conducted in several other countries and that there was more evidence being uncovered and reported in the foreign media.

Now that a new administration has taken over, investigations on the 1MDB scandal are being reignited. All of a sudden, we see dozens and dozens of boxes being carried out by the police from the premises of Najib and Rosmah and those linked to them.

The police have finished their inventory and the valuation of everything that has been confiscated. It took them several weeks to thoroughly go through it all and now the actual list and value have been released. It is an absurd amount.

Najib has been adamant that all these items are mainly gifts from other dignitaries. He even said in an interview with Malaysiakini that “If the gifts are given to you by other heads of state, like on occasions like your birthday and not expecting anything in return, it is not illegal.”

Here is the thing. It may not be illegal technically, but what about ethically? What about the problem of perception? Isn’t it a known thing that politicians need to maintain integrity and independence, or at the very least the perception of it?

Does Najib, a veteran politician, not understand how important it is for the people to believe that he has not done anything wrong? In this sense, he is trying to convince the people that he isn’t siphoning billions of ringgit.

Now he is found to be in possession of an absurd amount of wealth. What kind of perception does he think people would have when they see this? And the fact that he can say that they are all mainly gifts doesn’t help either.

Wouldn’t it give people a better perception for him to decline the gifts? Think about it. Najib says that these are gifts from people who expect nothing in return. If someone gives you a Rolex that is worth RM3.5 million, would you not feel gratitude? What would the perception be?

Umno’s cash?

As for the RM116.7 million in cash, Najib claims it is party’s money. Several party members have also claimed this. The police have said that they would require official statements from Umno. None of have been made. Again, I would have to ask – what would the perception be?

Let me reiterate that I believe that Najib and Rosmah are innocent until proven guilty. And when they say that they are being wrongly accused and that they shouldn’t be tried by media, I totally agree with them.

But, I have to say that no media have accused them of being guilty of the 1MDB scandal. Everything that has been reported has been things that are the results of investigations.

The media have all reported that the police revealed the facts of the investigations. None have said that they are guilty and the items seized were gotten from illegal monies. None. No one. Nada. Zilch. Zero. It’s just that the perception given is quite obvious.

Unfortunately for Najib and Rosmah, they are public figures. And not only are they public figures, they are politicians and state leaders (or the spouse of). Although they are innocent until proven guilty, they have to accept that they are subjects of public interest.

The very essence of a politician is to create a certain perception of themselves, most often a positive one, so that they can convince people to vote for them. If they fail to create a positive enough perception, then people won’t vote for them. That is democracy.

They cannot blame the people for feeling a certain way. Wouldn’t they have the same perception if the tables were turned on them? But I guess neither can we, the people, blame Najib and Rosmah for making the statements that they are making of late. They still have to defend themselves from this perception that everyone has.

If they are eventually charged and brought to court, I am sure that they would defend themselves then too. So I guess everyone, them and us, would have to endure the process until it is over.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!

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