Najib ignores anti-tower protest at his ‘peril’, warn analysts

By Boo Su-Lyn and Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, The Malaysian Insider

Analysts have warned that dismissing the growing opposition to the proposed 100-storey Warisan Merdeka project on Facebook can erode Barisan Nasional’s (BN) support among the youth in the general election.

Nearly 200,000 Malaysians have registered their protest against the RM5 billion Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB) skyscraper project on the social networking website amid wide speculation that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak may call for snap polls within the next six months.

The number of fans on the “1M Malaysians Reject 100-storey Mega Tower” page is growing at a breakneck pace — estimated at 1,000 an hour — since it was created anonymously hours after the prime minister announced the new PNB building during his 2011 Budget speech.

“Najib can ignore it but it is to his peril that he ignores the opposition,” political analyst James Chin told The Malaysian Insider.

“It will cost BN votes among the younger ones,” he said, adding that Facebook users tended to be young people.

To date, there are 8,679,160 Facebook users in Malaysia who make up a 33.18 per cent penetration of the country’s population, according to a Facebook statistics website called

The 18-24 year age group comprises 38 per cent and the 25-34 year age group comprises 33 per cent, totalling 71 per cent of the Malaysian Facebook population.

With more than four million eligible but still unregistered Malaysian voters, political parties are racing to get them on the electoral rolls.

Last year, Umno registered the highest number of new voters at 24,818, followed by DAP with 17,756 and PAS with 16,987, according to the Election Commission (EC).

The EC has also stated that there are currently 11,381,193 registered voters nation-wide, with 191,970 new voters registered during the second quarter of the year.

Chin, a Monash University professor, pointed out that writing off the online protest would cast a bad light on Najib’s image as the prime minister has asked Malaysians for ideas on various matters.

“It’ll look bad like he’s a hypocrite because he asks people for suggestions but doesn’t listen,” he said, noting that Najib also used Facebook to reach out to voters.

On August 24, the prime minister had posted a message on his Facebook page titled “Najib Razak” calling all Malaysians to contribute ideas for the 2011 Budget.

He also claimed on his Facebook page, which has 450,112 fans at last count, that there was a keen online interest in the Warisan Merdeka tower.

“Seeing strong online interest in the proposed Warisan Merdeka. The building will bring great economic benefits to us all. #budget2011,” said Najib on October 20.

Most fans of the anti-Warisan Merdeka page, however, have derided the project as a wasteful initiative, among other things, with some using digital placards from the page’s 165-image collection as their profile pictures.

Many “placards” feature messages written on cardboard images calling for alternative uses of RM5 billion, such as: “RM5 billion to help stop child abuse”; “RM5 billion. Improve facilities for the disabled”; “No mega tower! We want world class public transport system!”; and “RM5 billion untuk rakyat di pedalaman (RM5 billion for the rural people)”.

Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian echoed Chin’s views and said that the government’s failure to further explain the goals of the PNB building project would cost BN at the ballot box.

“If no explanation is given, I think the people would punish them in the next election,” said Sivamurugan, referring to the next general election.

“With the RM5 billion, how will it benefit the masses? It (the government) needs to give further explanation on how the building functions, its use towards physical infrastructure, and whether it will be a tourist attraction,” he added.

In his Budget 2011 speech, Najib said the Warisan Merdeka tower was set to be the country’s tallest tower upon its completion in 2015, surpassing even the Petronas Twin Towers.

He also said that the rationale for the skyscraper was similar to that of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, in that it would serve as a symbol of a modern and developed Malaysia.

The prime minister also pointed out that the project would have a “multiplier effect” on the economy and help drive it forward, in addition to providing an attractive commercial centre for Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera businesses alike.

Sivamurugan, a Universiti Sains Malaysia political science lecturer, further warned that ignoring the Malaysian online demonstration would cause a dip in the government’s popularity.

“If they ignore the 176,000 fans on Facebook, it will become a very unpopular government,” he said.