Najib on Chinese airwaves

The way the politics in our country is structured, a politician of a particular race would address an audience of the same race. Except for when elections are near, politicians hardly step outside of this comfort zone.

So when I saw an advertisement on TV today, showing that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak would be appearing on ntv7 for an interview session with two of the station’s top Mandarin newscasters/emcees, it immediately piqued my interest.

A few weeks ago, Najib had also went live on a Chinese language radio station, 988, addressing issues and questions that the deejays had collected from their listeners throughout the week. That session was a little awkward, given that the deejays themselves weren’t very well-versed in English, and the time spent on translating the questions and answers from English back into Cantonese.

However, that radio interview session was an eye-opener, because as far as I can remember, we’ve never had something like this on Chinese language radio stations before. 988 is known for addressing national politics, more than most other Chinese language radio stations, and so they have invited quite a few political figures on air before. But definitely not someone as high profile as the Prime Minister of the country.

Turning back to this live TV interview, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how much they managed to squeeze out of the one and a half hour session. The interviewers were very experienced, and most of the interview was very well-conducted. They even managed to include video snippets of candid interviews with the people on the ground, which was quite all-rounded, and covered a lot of the main concerns of the general public.

Halfway through the interview, my friend mentioned in passing, “Ah, all this is a lie. I’m sure that the TV station would have sent him a list of the questions they would be asking. So right now, he’s basically just reading from a prepared answer sheet.” Which could, for all we know, be true. And honestly, what’s stopping them from doing so?

Of course, idealistic as we all are, we’d love to hear the Prime Minister answer questions as they come, and not be so prepared for them already that he sounds almost like a machine. We’d love to hear what he really thinks, what he really has to say, and not what his advisors and strategists think is the best thing to tell us. We’d love to have a candid session with him, the same way the candid interviews were carried out on the streets.

The interview wasn’t a perfect one. Though the hosts managed to get quite a good number of questions and issues in, most of the answers sounded like a pre-emptive attempt to pull in votes for the upcoming general elections, that most people are speculating will be held in June. It sounded like a rehearsed advertisement for Barisan Nasional.

Still, one can’t say that Najib failed completely at the end. Because say what we will, this was advertised as the first time our Prime Minister has appeared on Chinese airwaves. And at such a sensitive period, something like this can be very important. It can be used as an indication that perhaps this Prime Minister is truly more in touch with the Chinese community compared to his predecessors.

It could still be too little, too late. Too much damage has been done, too much Chinese trust has been lost. If the video snippets are any indication, many think Najib might be a good man in the wrong government. But is he a good enough man whom they are willing to trust and vote for, given the type of political party he leads?

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