The Najib ‘bossku’ hype: Chance on speed or planned campaign?

The 'bossku' tagline has become popular with various communities, especially Malay youths. — Picture via Facebook
The 'bossku' tagline has become popular with various communities, especially Malay youths. — Picture via Facebook

KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Malu apa bossku phenomenon was generated by a public relations machinery, which might have taken advantage of dissatisfaction with the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH), political analysts said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political scientist Kartini Aboo Talib said the Malay phrase, which roughly translates to “What’s there to be ashamed of my boss”, was first uttered by the Pekan MP and former prime minister in a video clip with a youth as part of a well-planned online campaign.

“The support for Malu apa bossku has gone viral and is gaining momentum due to the powerful cyber troopers that simply inculcate good image, taglines, catchy phrases to people in all layers of society,” she told Malay Mail.

The tagline has become popular with various communities, especially Malay youths, spawning videos, memes, t-shirts, caps, vehicle stickers and a music video.      

Kartini noted that youths tend to become easily excited over the ever-changing political issues in Malaysia, resulting in the popularity of the bossku moniker.

She expects the hype to be temporary, likening it to the K-pop fad, where the fans’ favourite choice of artistes often change as new idols emerge.

However, Kartini also believed that certain achievements made during Najib’s administration were still fresh in the younger generations’ minds, like the Malaysian Youth Policy and National Transformation 2050, which she said was supposed to provide youths with opportunities, funding and advice to be successful entrepreneurs.

The academic also said the seeming surge in support for Najib could be an “alarm clock” to remind PH that the people are not happy with various aspects of the PH government’s performance, citing some controversial actions by ministers and an unfulfilled PH manifesto.

Sunway University political scientist Wong Chin Huat highlighted the possibility of subsidised merchandise playing a role behind the “bossku” hype.

“In Rantau, I came across various bossku t-shirts sold at the price of RM5 or RM6. The vendor told me his cost price from supplier in Selangor was RM1.

“For the quality, the real cost might be around RM7 to RM8. So, someone was heavily subsidising these merchandise to create the sensation,” he said.

The analyst also questioned the composition and motivation of supporters behind Najib’s resurgence in popularity, noting that no research has been conducted on the matter.

If most of the bossku supporters were voters with no fixed party loyalty in the last general election, then their actions might be an expression of protest against the PH administration for not performing satisfactorily, he indicated.

Azlan Zainal from research firm Ilham Centre believes the bossku movement was orchestrated by a special campaign team and had morphed from its initial effectiveness in reigniting support for Najib into a thing of mockery among Malaysians.

He said youth support for the bossku tagline can be fragile.

“It’s undeniable that Malaysians are only interested in anything that is currently ‘trending’, viral and unique,” he said.

But he also said the motto can be turned around into a rallying cry for the Opposition over time if the government failed to address public expectation.

“So, if people have started to become angry with Pakatan Harapan over many issues, then this campaign is easily embraced,” Azlan said.

*Note: A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.