The PJ Tatler

Malaysian PM Criticized for Golfing with Obama While Homeland Suffers from Flooding

It is to say, “bad optics” that’s plaguing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak after news reached his homeland of his round of golf with President Obama.

Massive flooding has displaced tens of thousands of people and critics are calling on Razak to return home to deal with the crisis.


Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was under fire at home on Thursday for spending his holiday golfing with US President Barack Obama in Hawaii while the country faces one of its worst floods.

More than 91 000 people have been displaced, the official news agency Bernama reported.

Netizens bombarded Najib’s Facebook page with calls for him to return home and deal with the disaster after news reports surfaced about him playing golf with Obama.

Najib’s latest Facebook post Thursday, in which he mentioned that he has contacted his deputy, who is also the chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee, to step up efforts to assist the victims, received over 1 300 comments. Many commenters took issue with him playing golf during the floods.

Bernama reported that as of noon on Thursday, over 91 000 people have fled their homes and were staying in the hundreds of shelters set up in the six states most affected.

The east coast states that face the South China Sea such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang were the worst hit. Many roads were cut off and train services to the east coast states were cancelled.

Kelantan saw the highest number of displaced victims at over 32 000 people. Part of the main hospital in the capital, Kota Bharu, had to be evacuated on Wednesday involving about 200 patients, according to the Harian Metro daily. Four people have died in Kelantan due to the floods that started last week.

I know that if President Obama remained in Hawaii after a big natural disaster hit America, he would come in for similar criticism, so it’s not surprising that Malaysians would be upset at their prime minister’s seeming indifference to suffering. Recall the criticism directed at President Bush who chose to remain on his ranch after Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the gulf coast.

A national leader has to be aware of this sort of thing, even though in practical terms. there’s no difference between Razak being on a golf course in Hawaii or back in his office in Kuala Lampur. But no matter how often the truth is repeated, the opposition licks its chops at this sort of symbolic image. Ordinary people want to know that their leader feels their pain and stands in solidarity with them.

Razak currently as no plans to return early to Malaysia.