Malaysian PM's panda naming stunt hijacked by opposition

Jun 14, 2012

Hundreds of people post thinly-veiled charges of corruption on Facebook page as panda stunt backfires

MALAYSIA'S prime minister Najib Razak became an object of ridicule on Facebook yesterday after a government social networking stunt backfired. The public was asked to suggest names for two pandas being sent to the country from China, but critics of the ruling coalition took to Facebook to propose monikers that referenced allegations of corruption.

By this morning, 300 people had commented on the Facebook page, according to Malaysian newswire FMT, with the majority being thinly veiled criticisms of the Barisan Nasional coalition's most contested decisions.

One less-than cuddly option was 'Altantuya', the name of a Mongolian woman murdered in Malaysia in 2006. A government official, one of three suspects in the case, was acquitted of murder in 2008 while two others were given the death penalty, prompting accusations of a cover-up.

Another Facebook user proposed 'Berish', doubtless in reference to the electoral reform group, Berish 2.0, which staged a large-scale protest on 28 April, to highlight claims of vote rigging in parliament.

Another uncomfortable suggestion was 'Stop-Lynas', a nod to the Australian rare earths mining company Lynas, which was granted permission to build a refining facility in Kuantan, east Malaysia, despite fierce local opposition.

The endangered animals are being loaned to Malaysia from China for 10 years as part of the Communist Party's ongoing policy of 'panda diplomacy', which last year saw a pair of pandas arrive in Edinburgh. Prime Minister Najib will meet with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao today to sign for the bears.

Najib has been plagued by allegations of corruption since coming to power in 2009 as a result of an internal party coup. A general election must be held by June 2013, but it is thought that the poll is more likely to be held sometime this year, according to The Times. In the meantime, Najib has launched a "charm offensive", including repealing a security law which allowed suspects to be detained indefinitely without trial.

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