Malaysia Premier Faces Twitter Backlash Over Flood Response

by BLOOMBERG / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

MALAYSIANS took to social media to protest Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s handling of severe floods that has left dozens dead and displaced more than 61,000 people with the “Do Not Donate To Government” hashtag trending on Twitter.

The phrase refers to a public fundraiser that Ismail’s government launched earlier in the week to help the victims of the floods that worsened last weekend and continue to inundate parts of peninsular Malaysia. The gesture didn’t go down well on Twitter, which has become a go-to platform for citizens to coordinate rescue and aid efforts following the government’s slow response.

The emotions captured on Twitter echo the public fury and desperation that cut short Muhyiddin Yassin’s brief time as premier this year. A social media campaign during the height of the nation’s lockdowns prompted citizens in need of aid to hang white flags outside their homes.

In the end, Muhyiddin stepped down in August, paving the way for Ismail to take over as Malaysia’s third prime minister since the 2018 general election.

In bid to calm angry citizens, Ismail said on Friday that his ministers were ordered to cancel their holidays and return immediately to help with the flood situation. He tweeted a snippet of his media conference that was met with even more criticism.

In Selangor, one of the worst-hit areas, more than 3,000 residents were evacuated on the first day of the floods itself, the chief minister of Malaysia’s most industrialized state said on Dec. 18. Many remained trapped due to lack of resources, opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago tweeted the following day.

Political cartoonist Zunar tweeted a video of a woman berating a minister over the government’s handling of the crisis. “When the situation was critical and the water had reached our roofs, there wasn’t a single government agency that came,” she said in the video, which was shared more than 50,000 times.

Ismail has admitted to weaknesses in the federal agencies’ coordination efforts, and said they would improve. He said the government will allocate 100 million ringgit ($23.7 million) for house and infrastructure repairs, and provide 1,000 ringgit each to affected households.

With more than 30,000 tweets on “Do Not Donate To Government”, the campaign hasn’t escaped the administration’s attention. Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rina Mohd Harun, who had launched the fund, called it inappropriate.

“In situations like now, there is no need for such hashtags. Doesn’t matter who is doing it (raising money) as long as the recipients benefit and our aims are achieved,” Rina was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.