Malaysians can’t confront their government about a massive scandal, so they’re singing this song instead

Just the right notes.
Just the right notes.
Image: Dustin Gaffke on Flickr/CC-BY-2.0
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Malaysians depressed about their government are finding some comfort in a plaintive new song.

In July, the Wall Street Journal reported on documents revealing that 2.6 billion ringgit (nearly $700 million at the time) from the troubled Malaysian state development fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), had apparently found its way into the personal bank accounts of prime minister Najib Razak. Najib denied taking money from 1MDB for personal gain, and claimed the deposits were from a private donation.

Since then, more questions about more missing funds have arisen. And the inexplicably lavish spending of Najib’s friends and family hasn’t helped allay concerns. Najib, meanwhile, has sacked officials probing into the affair, including his deputy prime minister, not the actions of a public official with nothing to hide.

In fact, Najib is cracking down on anyone inside Malaysia calling for more investigation. Local media outlets asking too many questions about 1MDB had their publishing licenses suspended. Malaysian police arrested and detained the lawyer of a local politician who had been calling for US law-enforcement authorities to investigate 1MDB. Internet freedom in the country is now ranked below Singapore’s, thanks in part to a Sedition Act that allows authorities to block internet content that could inspire citizens to rebel against the government.

Perhaps that’s why the new song, written in Malaysian by Amirudin Hizadin, is called “Mana Hilang 2.6 Bintang,” or “Where Did the 2.6 Stars Go,” (a not-so-subtle reference to the 2.6 billion ringgit Najib is accused of taking). Posted on Facebook earlier this week, the song had garnered more than 143,000 views, 4,500 likes, and 3,300 shares by 9am local time on Nov. 6, and the numbers are still rising fast. A version can also be found on Youtube:

The song is a lament about the cost of food, petrol, and electricity in Malaysia. Late last year Najib’s administration removed subsidies for gasoline, diesel, and sugar, and it plans to continue cutting others, including for liquefied petroleum gas and cooking oil. In April it implemented a highly resented consumption tax of 6% on all goods and services. Meanwhile Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor—dubbed “the first lady of shopping”— was likened to Imelda Marcos for her extravagant international shopping trips.

According to Free Malaysia Today, the lyrics translated are as follows:

Maybe if I never came to Kuala Lumpur
Paying for tolls and oil would leave me convulsed
With just enough spending money to eat at dawn
Maybe my life would be darkness
Unable to pay my electricity bills
But it’s alright, I’ll wait for BR1M money and aid
Where did the 2.6 stars go
That should have lit our nightmares and darkness?
Where did the 2.6 stars go
I ask Mr. Sun but he remains silent
Perhaps the sick will continue to be weak
Falling even as they pay for medicine
But PA says it’s good for us
Maybe the prices of goods will go down
With the GST everyone profits
But why are more and more people depressed
Where did the 2.6 stars go
That should have lit our nightmares and darkness?
Where did the 2.6 stars go
I ask Mr. Sun but he remains silent

Besides the nod to the missing 2.6 billion ringgit, there’s a clever play on words at work. “Mr. Sun” sounds like “minister” in Malay: mentari means sun, but sounds a lot like menteri, or minister.

Since the news broke about 1MDB in July, authorities in Singapore, SwitzerlandHong Kong, and the United States have launched investigations into international financial activities linked to the fund. But despite these investigations, and tens of thousands of protesters rallying against Najib in late August, the opposition trying to organize a no-confidence motion, Malaysia’s royalty demanding answers on 1MDB, and international investors increasingly wary of the nation due to the political scandal, Najib has remained firmly in place.

Image above by Dustin Gaffke on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-2.0.