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Jokes about Najib's kangkung comment lead to fear of racial riots in M'sia

Satirical jokes about Malaysian Prime Mnister Najib Razak's comment on how the government was often blamed for price hikes, but rarely praised when prices of items like popular green vegetable kangkung fell, have led to fears of racial riots in the country.

KUALA LUMPUR: In Malaysia, what started as a satirical social media storm has quickly escalated into something much more serious.

Jokes about a popular green vegetable called kangkung, or water spinach, have led to fears of racial riots in the country.

It all began with a few words by Malaysia’s Prime Mnister Najib Razak

In a speech earlier this month, Mr Najib lamented how the government was often blamed for price hikes, but rarely praised when prices of items like kangkung fell.

And just like that, chaos ensued on social media.

Hundreds of thousands of tweets, photos, videos and even ads for kangkung-inspired merchandise and promotions made the rounds -- all in jest of the prime minister's statement

Kangkung grows very easily in Malaysia, so much so that one can even find it growing by the sides of drains.

But still the vegetable is very popular and sought after in the country. So why did it become the subject of so much public ridicule?

Political analyst Tricia Yeoh said: "I think it started, actually, with… a lot of pent up emotions last year, at the end of last year when the government said it was going to increase electricity rates, and of course reducing the subsidy on fuel.

“The whole kangkung comment, of course, was said by the prime minister trying to give an example of (prices of) items that have gone down. And he just happened to pick kangkung as an example, not realising that people would actually react in such a violent manner and say is that all we can actually eat on a daily basis? Obviously there has to be more on my plate, not just a plate of vegetables.”

While the social media response seemed harmless enough, Mr Najib's supporters felt a Penang Opposition assemblyman, Lee Khai Loon, crossed the line last week when he stuffed kangkung into the mouth of a cardboard cutout of the prime minister.

In response, the Penang branches of the ruling party, Umno, and Malay rights group, Perkasa, held a racially charged, pro-Najib rally over the weekend, where they suggested the country could be headed for a repeat of 1969's deadly racial riots.

Muhammad Zahid Md Arip from Perkasa said: “If there are parties who want it to happen, if there are people who continue to incite issues that hurt others' feelings, I don't reject the possibility that May 13th could happen.

“The freedom that we have, the democracy we practise is not a democracy we can abuse and do what we like with.”

Not all will agree with how the kangkung saga played out, but even the government has not been able to ignore the widespread public discontent that led to the social media storm.

Last week, it set up a special cabinet committee to tackle the rising cost of living in Malaysia.

But netizens may have been having too much fun with “kangkung-gate” to notice. 

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