Malaysian Prime Minister Sparks Water Spinach Meme Over Rising Prices

Worried about rising food prices? Keep calm and let them eat kangkung (water spinach).

Since last week, Malaysians have been commenting, debating, and joking about the controversial statement of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak who said that people are always reacting when food prices are rising but not when these are going down. He specifically mentioned that the price of kangkung has gone down in the country.

Below is the translation of some parts of Najib’s speech (watch also the video):

There are times when the price of vegetables, sawi (mustard green) and kangkung goes up and there are times it comes down. I read in the newspaper that some prices have come down. Kangkung prices once went up and now it is down. When the prices come down, why are there no praises for the government? When it goes up, the government gets the blame. This is unfair because (such issues are determined by) the weather condition.

The price of basic goods in Malaysia such as petrol and sugar is expected to rise because of the government’s decision to cut subsidies. It is fueling a rising discontent in the country which became evident in the New Year protest when thousands joined a street celebration to denounce the rising cost of living.

Najib defended his kangkung remark by arguing that he cited the green vegetable as an example in explaining an economic concept:

I had used the kangkung as an example of the supply-demand principle. My favourite foods are kangkung and sotong (squid).

A Kadir Jasin described kangkung as ‘the most widespread plant and the most loved vegetable’ in Malaysia. But he also emphasized that it’s a wrong indicator of household expenses:

…it is pointless to use kangkung as an example or barometer when households spend a mere 2% of their total monthly expenditure on buying greens.

OutSyed The Box reminded Najib that people are complaining against the price increases in products and services which are subject to government regulation:

You do not seem to understand simple basic things. If left to market forces the people will not blame you for high prices.

The people never blamed you for the up and down movement of kangkung prices.

People are blaming you for the prices of goods, foods and services that are INDEED THE SUBJECT OF PRICE CONTROLS.

Because of the huge Internet buzz it enjoyed in the past week, Anil Netto believes kangkung has now become a symbol of growing economic difficulties in Malaysia:

…the humble kangkung has become a symbol of the economic difficulties facing ordinary Malaysians.

Given that outward expressions of dissent (e.g. street protests) are strictly curtailed, the laughter over kangkung provides a ‘safe’ outlet for the pent-up frustrations of many people who are feeling the burden of rising prices, low incomes and the impact of corruption and cronyism.

Below are some reactions on Twitter:


Najib should at least apologize to the people, according to blogger ordinary Malaysian:

That was where the clueless or insensitive Pm faltered. You don't make fun of people's favourite food by implying that they could always eat more kangkung to tighten their belts, while those in power continue to live like kings at the people's expense. Now that Najib is choking on kangkung, the least decent thing he could do is to apologise for his faux pas, not trying to seem proletariat by proclaiming he loved kangkung too.

Zan Azlee urges the government to be more sensitive to the plight of ordinary citizens:

What they do not deserve is a government that is insensitive. They do not deserve a government that, upon responding to their rants, sound more mocking than emphatic.

Thumbnail used is from @Duurianne

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