Win­ning the war of per­cep­tion

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - SEPTEM­BER 15, 2017 JOCELINE TAN news­room@mm­times.com TERESA CEROJANO news­room@mm­times.com

IT is ap­par­ent by now that Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak’s White House visit went far bet­ter than ex­pected.

The video footage and pho­to­graphs of Na­jib and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump were all over the news por­tals and so­cial media by late Tues­day, Malaysian time.

From their dou­ble-clasp hand­shake to their body lan­guage, both lead­ers looked equally pleased to be meet­ing again af­ter their last en­counter, which was at a golf course.

A pic­ture, as they say, speaks a thou­sand words and made for rather pow­er­ful op­tics back home.

There was a steady stream of bad pub­lic­ity and sen­sa­tional news re­ports to de­nounce the meet­ing.

Back home, the at­tacks ranged from say­ing that the White House in­vi­ta­tion was no big deal, to out­landish claims that Na­jib is a “wanted man” in the United States.

There were even claims that, as a re­sult of the visit, Malaysia would be­come a pup­pet of the United States.

The Pakatan cam­paign sug­gests that they do not quite un­der­stand the way pol­i­tics has shifted on Capi­tol Hill with Trump in the Oval Of­fice.

It also sug­gests that the visit meant much more to the Op­po­si­tion than they cared to ad­mit.

Their plan was to un­der­mine the meet­ing’s value and keep the 1MDB cam­paign alive un­til the polls.

Pakatan had ze­roed in on Na­jib and 1MDB as the ticket to win­ning the next gen­eral elec­tion.

They have man­aged to dent Na­jib’s im­age, but the 1MDB fire is not burn­ing like be­fore and sur­veys have shown that the ma­jor­ity of vot­ers are tired of this com­pli­cated story.

Ger­akan Youth politi­cian Ivan­pal S. Gre­wal said: “There have been so many spu­ri­ous at­tacks on this visit. There are lead­ers out there who want a White House meet­ing but can­not get it. It’s a cov­eted meet­ing.”

There was no deny­ing that Na­jib wanted to show that de­spite ev­ery­thing the Op­po­si­tion has said in the last few years, he is wel­comed at the Oval Of­fice.

Na­jib’s jet touched down at the US mil­i­tary air­base near Wash­ing­ton, DC, on a crisp and cool morn­ing. News of the death of the Sul­tan of Kedah had reached him by then.

De­spite be­ing a gen­er­a­tion apart, Na­jib had formed a rather special bond with Al­marhum Sul­tan Ab­dul Halim Mu’adzam Shah dur­ing the lat­ter’s king­ship.

There was no doubt that the for­mer King was ter­ri­bly fond of Na­jib and mo­ments af­ter reach­ing his ho­tel, Na­jib was surf­ing the Ber­nama web­site for re­ports on the Sul­tan’s pass­ing.

The White House visit started out on a rather sad note.

Amer­ica, too, was mark­ing a day of re­mem­brance for the Sept 11 tragedy while fur­ther south, Amer­i­cans were strug­gling to re­cover from what has been de­scribed as the hur­ri­cane of the cen­tury.

But Na­jib ar­rived with a clear agenda on trade, in­vest­ments and bi­lat­eral ties.

This was a metic­u­lously planned trip. Even his choice of ho­tel – Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel – was no co­in­ci­dence.

His state­ment out­lin­ing his thoughts about the visit was pub­lished the day be­fore his ar­rival in The Hill, a po­lit­i­cal web­site with a fol­low­ing among US law­mak­ers and those in the White House.

He pressed the right but­tons in the ar­ti­cle, touch­ing on their shared his­tory as trade part­ners.

He stressed Malaysia’s com­mit­ment to counter vi­o­lent extremism and ter­ror at­tacks, which he fol­lowed up on dur­ing his meet­ings with the US side.

The op­po­si­tion par­ties had launched a war of per­cep­tion against Na­jib and it was played out on the world stage.

They did dam­age, al­though they did not quite achieve what they wanted.

“As far as we are con­cerned, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion (into 1MDB) is still on, the White House of­fi­cials have said it is in­de­pen­dent of the visit,” said PKR vice-pres­i­dent Sham­sul Iskandar.

But, said Ab­dul Rah­man, the White House visit has al­lowed Na­jib to re­set the per­cep­tion of what the Op­po­si­tion has been say­ing about him and his Gov­ern­ment.

That does not mean his de­trac­tors have given up be­cause by Wed­nes­day morn­ing, a fake pho­to­graph, doc­tored to show Na­jib kiss­ing the hand of his host, was cir­cu­lat­ing on What­sapp.

The pic­ture was ac­tu­ally a col­lage of two im­ages – an old pic­ture of Na­jib kiss­ing his mother’s hand su­per­im­posed on an ac­tual pic­ture from the Trump-na­jib meet­ing.

The per­cep­tion war – on both sides – will grow fiercer to­wards the gen­eral elec­tion.

– The Star On­line (Malaysia)

Malaysian Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak in Kuala Lumpur in June. Photo: EPA

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