KUALA LUMPUR, July 9 — The harm to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s image from a Wall Street Journal report claiming he received funds from 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) is palpable, with a Twitter survey showing Malaysians were overwhelmingly negative towards the prime minister over the news.
According to the study conducted by social media researchers Politweet, over eight in 10 Twitter users discussing the allegations published in the WSJ were overtly critical of the prime minister.
Worryingly also for those handling Najib’s public persona is that less than 6 per cent of those studied believed that the prime minister was falsely accused of receiving US$700 million in 1MDB funds through his personal bank accounts.
“The quick acceptance of allegations brought by Wall Street Journal shows that respect and faith in the PM is at a low level.
“Critics of the PM demonstrated a mindset of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ when it comes to allegations against him and statements defending him,” Politweet said.
Neutral responses were marginally higher than the positive, with 8.67 per cent of users saying they wanted to see an investigation before coming to a conclusion on Najib.
Demands for Najib to resign as prime minister also found traction among the users studied, with more than a third of the users expressing this opinion either generally or directly at him via his Twitter account.
Fuelling the call for Najib to step down were the absence of a direct denial to the existence of the bank accounts attributed to him by the WSJ or that the funds were indeed deposited into these accounts as well as the failure to sue the newspaper over the claim.
As with previous studies by Politweet, the majority of the negative comments about Najib — over two thirds — were written in Bahasa Malaysia.
“The impression we get is that even if the allegations by WSJ are proven to be untrue, there is already a growing negative sentiment towards the PM due to other issues,” Politweet continued.
The findings of the survey mimic the sentiment expressed by award-winning Forbes writer Chris Wright who this week said that, guilty or otherwise, Najib will face added challenge to hold on to power following the WSJ exposé.
In a report last Friday, the WSJ claimed that a money trail showed that US$700 million was moved between government agencies, banks and companies before it ended up in Najib's personal accounts.
A special taskforce comprising the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Bank Negara Malaysia, the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission are investigating 1MDB and the claim made by the WSJ.
The high-powered investigation this week froze six bank accounts and seized 17 documents over the alleged money trail, but yesterday said that none of these were linked to Najib.
It also raided 1MDB’s office on Jalan Sultan Ismail yesterday.
Najib has denied taking funds from 1MDB for “personal gain” and his lawyers have since asked the WSJ to state if the newspaper is accusing the prime minister of misappropriating funds.
Aside from the special taskforce, 1MDB is also under investigation by the Auditor-General’s Department and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
Politweet studied posts from 600 Twitter users between July 3 and 5 for its survey to gauge public reaction to the WSJ report.