The Evil, Stupid and Arrogant in Malaysian Politics: Who is Jadong?

A leading opposition figure in Malaysia has resorted to firing deprecatory epithets at the administration led by Anwar Ibrahim. The reality is that that the Malay portmanteau “jadong” could apply to politicians of all stripes.


( – Hamzah Zainudin has used economic grievances to fire broadsides at the administration led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and even used a Malay portmanteau oft-used to belittle the intellectual prowess of political adversaries. The irony, however, is that the term “jadong” can be applied not only to the government of the day, but the ranks of the opposition that he leads.

Hamzah recently took to social media to discuss the Himpunan Selamatkan Rakyat (Rally to Save the People) gathering outside Istana Negara on 23 January. Attended by some 1,000 participants, the main grievance expressed at the rally concerned the people’s growing economic hardships. Representatives from four Muslim non-governmental organisations also submitted a memorandum to the previous Malaysian King emphasising the people’s struggles and criticizing Anwar Ibrahim’s government for its poor handling of the situation.

In a video uploaded to his social media platforms on the day of the rally, Hamzah said that “what happened at the rally today is history.” Commenting on how the participants braved the heat and demonstrated outside the palace on a workday, Hamzah said the rally was a sign that “the people have lost their hope in the government led by Anwar Ibrahim.”

Hamzah said that rising living costs have affected people from all walks of life, from p-hailing riders in the gig economy to small business owners. Citing that people are even taking their own lives because of the stress from their economic struggles, Hamzah said that this is a result of a government that is “evil” and “arrogant”. More specifically, he used the term “jadong government”.

The derogatory term he chose is intriguing. Jadong is a portmanteau of the Malay words jahat (evil), bodoh (stupid), and sombong (arrogant). As Hamzah said in his video, he took the term from the late Malaysian scholar, Syed Hussein Alatas, who coined it in 2000. First mentioned in his book Cita Sempurna Warisan Sejarah (The Ideals of Excellence as Historical Legacy), which was based on a lecture given at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Alatas used jadong to refer to incapable leaders who hindered the progress of society. These leaders are described as being governed by “ideals of destruction” (cita bencana) such as a lack of moral values, corrupt practices, and misuse of power at the expense of the people.

Hamzah’s usage of jadong is unusual and even surprising. The late Professor Alatas, known for his sharp criticisms of the political elite, was often marginalised as an intellectual despite having served his country in numerous capacities. A founding member of the multiracial Gerakan party — alongside other intellectuals such as Professor Wang Gungwu — he also served as a senator in the Dewan Negara (the upper house in Parliament), and made significant contributions to the formulation of the Rukun Negara (National Principles). He spent more than two decades in Singapore as the founding head of Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore and spent the twilight years of his professional life as the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya.

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