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Najib defends 'kangkung' analogy

Publication Date : 18-01-2014


Four days after Malaysians poked fun at Prime Minister Najib Razak for using the kangkung (water spinach) to address grouses on recent price hikes, he broke his silence, saying he used the vegetable as an example because everyone, including him, likes to eat it.

He said he was trying to explain the concept of market forces that caused price hikes by using the vegetable examples of "sawi" and "kangkung", or mustard greens and water spinach in Malay, two common foods that Malaysians consume.

"But when I gave examples, people made fun of them," he said at a dinner organised by the Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress on Thursday. "I like to eat kangkung. All of you like to eat kangkung too... If I had used, for example, quail meat, only some people eat it."

The kangkung, stir-fried with chilli and belacan, or dried shrimp paste, is a popular dish cooked at home and in restaurants. On Sunday, Najib had used the kangkung analogy to point out how the government was blamed when prices went up, but was not praised when prices came down.

But Malaysian netizens turned his analogy into a series of satirical jokes. They doctored a Kentucky Fried Chicken advertisement to show Najib as Colonel Sanders, with the tagline "Kangkung Fried Belacan". Another had a picture of a burger that, instead of a meat patty, was stuffed with kangkung, and was named McKangkung.

The jokes were especially caustic as Malaysians were upset that Najib had used a vegetable that is so commonly found, and even grows along drains. To them, it implied they should lower their living standards after the government raised the prices of fuel, sugar and electricity in recent months to cut subsidies in order to reduce public spending.

Najib has promised to help the people cope with rising costs. On Thursday, he said the domestic trade, cooperatives and consumerism ministry would go after traders who arbitrarily raised the prices of goods. "This is one way we can help reduce the prices for consumers, particularly prices hiked up by unethical traders out to take advantage of the current situation," he said.

The government has also set up a special committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to study measures to ease the people's burden and come up with pricing systems.

But the kangkung jokes keep coming. on Friday, a Kuala Lumpur cafe offered customers coffee in exchange for kangkung, and kangkung to those who pay for coffee.

These jokes continue to garner widespread attention on social media in the region, with British news provider BBC running an article on it. It later claimed its kangkung piece had been blocked in Malaysia for a few hours on Wednesday and Thursday.

Umno, the party which Najib leads, has hit out against the opposition for sensationalising the kangkung saga, after a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) assemblyman led a small flash mob in Penang. The protesters stuffed kangkung into the mouth of an effigy of Najib and sang a modified version of a popular Malay folk song called Lenggang-lenggang Kangkung, or "swaying water spinach".

Penang Umno Youth chief Rafizal Abdul Rahim on Thursday warned PKR assemblyman Lee Khai Loon not to hold such flash mobs again. "If not, he will be facing Umno Youth members who will not hesitate to defend our leader from being insulted."

Umno lawmaker Nur Jazlan Mohamed said the kangkung mockery is tarnishing the nation's image. "Do you realise you are ridiculing the leader of this nation? This means you are ridiculing yourself."


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