Taylor's FSLM Journals
Shame and shamelessness: Changing discourses in Najib Razak’s social media campaign

@ SEARCH Journal of Media and Communication Research

Online ISSN: 2672-7080

*Benjamin YH Loh, Vilashini Somiah & Sarah Ali


After his political fall, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has industriously worked to reinvent his public persona to regain political mileage. His campaign, “Malu Apa, Bossku?” (What is there to be ashamed about, my boss?), has allowed Najib to refashion himself as an everyman, a rebranding which resonated with and garnered support from certain segments of society, particularly younger Malay-Muslim supporters. While it is tempting to draw parallels with other right-wing authoritarian leaders, we observe that what Najib did is different. By “misappropriating” his public shame in the wake of the 1MDB sovereign fund scandal and his political losses in 2018’s 14th General Election, he has achieved a certain degree of success through his campaign, albeit by subverting his original political messaging. By utilizing a critical discourse analysis of Najib’s social media output, this paper proposes a theory for assessing the effects of subverting shame to rehabilitate the image of a disgraced politician.

Keywords: Populism, political shame, social media campaigns, Najib Razak, digital demagogues