Opposition walkout makes for bad PR

Mo1

The proposed national budget for 2017 was disappointing to say the least and so was the opposition’s reaction to it.

The proposals represented nothing more than a dog-and-pony-show, laden with populist promises designed to appease the rakyat. In their reaction, the opposition representatives gave an obscene display of childishness.

Parliament became, last Friday, a stage for coarse theatre.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, in his capacity as Finance Minister, announced a total budget of RM260.8 billion, a 3.4 per cent rise from last year. Among the highlights were increases in the 1Malaysia Peoples Aid Scheme (BR1M) payments, which Najib said were “neither animal feed nor bait, but sincere assistance from the government as we always prioritise the people’s needs”.

That comment was only one of many jabs at the opposition and former premier Mahathir Mohamad. Indeed, it was Najib’s comments concerning the latter that apparently prompted the opposition walkout.

It was a trap that Najib didn’t even bother to disguise, daring those “without any substance” to leave the hall. It played out exactly the way he wanted it.

What is especially galling is that the opposition members had already prepared to be complete children over the whole thing. They waved placards saying “Who is MO1?”, a reference to one of the central figures in the United States Department of Justice’s court action connected to the 1MDB scandal.

A capture of one of the climactic moments of the show would make for a good cartoon panel: a row of opposition MPs waving their silly placards and the prime minister sporting a grin.

The protesting MPs lost the argument the moment they lost their calm. They would have been better served had they stayed their hand and chosen to quietly build a strong (and theatrical, if necessary) attack on Najib and his budget over the coming two weeks. That, of course, would require that they all work together.

Their attacks have taken away the media’s attention from whatever substantial arguments they could have made against the budget.

As it is, Najib has gained the upper hand, with his populist budget projected to garner support from lower-income Malaysians. His PR has taken a surprising uptick, what with the internet buzzing with stories about business jumping for the Nasi Lemak Anak Dara stall in Shah Alam following its mention in his speech.

Will he be able to keep his promises? That remains to be seen.

As for the opposition, the best thing it can do now is to wait, recover, and gather for an attack. And the attack will be stronger if it can be carried out without histrionics.