Perhaps it’s little known to New Mandala readers but handbags are often a source of amusement in Malaysia. Not actual handbags of course, rather I mean petty squabbling, for which ‘handbags’ is a sometimes-used euphemism. Public politics often involves such handbags.
In Malaysia, handbag battles in national politics have titanic consequences for a public gnashing their teeth to fulfil their presumed ‘Asian Tiger’ destiny. Often commentary circles around the question of why instead of becoming a dynamic regional power, the Malaysian tiger remains dazed and confused. The many reasons for Malaysia’s dazed and confused state are well discussed on this site. Suffice to say, these reasons make a mockery of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ‘1Malaysia’ campaign. The slogan ‘1Contradiction’ may well be more apt.
I was recently confronted with the 1Contradiction condition when talking to a Malaysian media official. The germs from 1Contradiction hurtled towards me in the form of a confession. The official recounted a story where the official had posted a link on Facebook to a site documenting Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and “her” Hermes handbag collection. The official then thought again and removed the link, fearing petty repercussions from colleagues.
Workplace handbags! Obviously the reason for the official posting this link was to expose the corrupt excesses of Najib Razak, Rosmah Mansor, and UMNO. The media official wants change, but doesn’t want to face inevitable handbags and jeopardise job security in a pro UMNO environment by affiliating themselves with the expose.
Similar symptoms of the 1Contradiction bug have now been found in subjects in UMNO-neutral environs far beyond Malaysia’s shores. Sydney-based designer Oliver Kapp has found himself embroiled in a 1Contradiction debacle that, by one particularly engaging account, he seemed happy to discuss before it was a scandal, and then vaguely denied after it had become scandalous. Oh, Oliver – you should have looked into protection from these sorts of diseases!
Vaccination researchers are unsure how many of the 61 pieces Rosmah Mansor ordered from Kapp were handbags, but we can predict with empirical evidence (see Rosmah’s Hermes collection) that it was a significant number. Amongst the other significant numbers for Najib and Rosmah’s private holiday to Sydney would have been the rate for a private Lear Jet to fly Kapp back to Kuala Lumpur to continue fittings, and for the penthouse suite in the Darling Hotel that would have cost well-over Najib’s annual salary (before tax) to reside in for a week .
For all this to move beyond petty handbags, Malaysians needed an official contradiction. On 2 February Najib reported via twitter that the Oliver Kapp debacle, “… was a widely exaggerated story deliberately fabricated to affect people’s perception of their leaders”.
Quite why Oliver Kapp and Frockwriter’s Patty Huntington would have reason to fabricate a 1Contradiction story about Najib Razak and the First Lady of Malaysia, has not been addressed, and surely won’t be.
The top-brass of UMNO might find that even staunch supporters have reason to vote against them if these handbag excesses are given more public attention.
Colum Graham is a recent graduate from the Australian National University, who is currently studying in Indonesia.