Korean superstar Psy handed Malaysia's ruling party a slap in the face when he declined to come onstage to toss the traditional 'yee-sang' with Prime Minister Najib Razak and other top members of his BN coalition at a gig to celebrate the Chinese New year.
In Penang to sing his signature Oppa Gangnam-style, Psy lived up to his fame and his purported RM2mil fee. He had the crowd singing and strutting along with him and his troupe of sharp and incredibly good-looking dancers.
For four minutes, the tens of thousands of Penangites who came to watch him at the Han Chiang school field simply went crazy. They demanded an encore and he gave them what they wanted. More Gangnam!
No politics for Psy!
But sadly for the BN, Psy wisely swerved away from being used to promote Najib's 1Malaysia brand of politics. The Malaysian leader had moments earlier announced to the crowd that Psy had a surprise for them - Oppa BN style.
It was not to be. Najib, wife Rosmah Mansor, son Norashman, former premier Abdullah Badawi, Gerakan chiefs Koh Tsu Koon, Teng Chang Yeow and Tourism minister Ng Yen Yen were among those left red-faced on stage after Psy's aide told the organizers the star would not be joining them for the 'yee-sang' tossing ceremony.
Crest-fallen, the BN team dissembled, returning to their VIP tent. Only Norashman stayed back, joining the main box below the stage and just a few feet away from where the Malaysia Chronicle team was to watch Psy's astonishing performance.
Han Chiang not Han Yang
'Yee-sang' is a raw fish salad tossed by Malaysian Chinese during the Chinese Lunar Year to signify good luck and success. The BN's 5-year mandate to rule will end on April 28, 2013 and Najib is widely expected to call for the 13th general election within weeks.
However, the signs so far are that BN may lose its 55-year stranglehold on the federal government, with the Pakatan Rakyat led by Anwar Ibrahim rated as having an even chance of pulling off the country's first-ever regime change.
To survive an ouster from within his own Umno party, Najib needs a convincing victory and to ensure this, he needs to claw back the lost support of voters, in particular the Malaysian Chinese community, who have been disgusted and frustrated by the endemic corruption and scandals of the BN elite.
Despite the millions spent on this showcase event, Najib may have 'blown it' for himself and the BN when he blundered several times during his speech.
The dull response from the Penang audience was unmistakable when the PM was unwise enough to ask them - three times no less -, "are you ready for BN". The 'Nos' drowned out the ayes. Yet when Najib had asked if the audience was ready for Psy, they had gone wild, screaming 'Yes' with all their might.
Worst was yet to come for Najib. In his speech, he mistakenly called the Han Chiang College 'Han Yang' several times, drawing loud boos. The implication that he was not sincere was clear and from then on, there was no way for him to win the crowd back to his side.
Even his announcement that the BN would build 20,000 new affordable houses for Penangites was greeted with lukewarm applause, and his assurance that he would "bring the best for Penang" was marred by shouts from among the crowd for him to "finish lah" and "we want Psy".
When Najib rehashed a promise first made by former premier Mahathir Mohamad that the federal government would allocate funds to build a monorail for the Penang island, there were few claps although several sarcastic shouts of "build first lah" could be distinctly heard.
Psy was "smart and fair"
In the countdown to Psy's much-awaited performance, many Malaysians had pleaded with Psy on his Facebook to turn down the BN's invite which they viewed as an 'election gimmick' to get Psy to 'recommend' voting for the BN.
"Psy's response shows he is on the ground with the Malaysian people. They want to come and watch him sing and dance but do not want to be used by Najib and Gerakan to show support for BN. Who to vote for is a serious matter not a public relations circus for Chang Yeow to show off his organizing skills or to butter up to the Najibs," Tan Kee Kwong, a senior Opposition leader in Anwar's PKR party, told Malaysia Chronicle.
"I am glad Psy was smart and fair. There is no reason for him to support the BN. It is not known for decent politics or for reform. They tried to use him, so why should he support such insincere politicians."
Norashman to the fore, Badawi pushed to the side
Indeed, Gerakan leaders as well as Najib's advisers did try their best to use the occasion to shore up Najib's dwindling popularity. At 63%, Najib has the lowest approval rating of all prime ministers so far going into a general election.
Just a day ago, Najib had told the press he wanted to do something new this year. Indeed, his strategy of wearing a crimson-red Chinese jersey in CNY banners hung across the nation had raised eyebrows among the conservative faction in his Malay-based Umno party.
The fact that Najib was photographed alone and brought along his son Norashman on his CNY functions also did not pass un-noticed. There is talk that he has been advised to keep his scandal-tainted and unpopular wife Rosmah in the background.
Be that as it may, the protocol breach apparent on Monday was the manner in which Badawi, who was the 5th prime minister of Malaysia, was sidelined and given a spot in the 'second row'.
Najib's priority and willingness to spend government funds on promoting himself and his family has already created rumblings in Umno. The sudden flocus on Norashman may raise alarm bells and prompt talk that he and Rosmah are setting the stage for Norashman to take over from Mahathir Mohamad's son Mukhriz.
Mahathir was the 4th prime minister and has openly admitted his ambition to see his son follow in his footsteps, defying public distaste for Umno's elitist and closed-door internal politics.
Rosmah flubs her lines
However, it may be easier said than done to suppress the brash-natured Rosmah, who has borne the brunt of negative publicity for her lavish spending, love of super-sized diamond rings and ultra-expensive Birkin bags.
On Monday, the crowd was polite when she was led up the stage to join her husband and son to sing 2 Chinese New Year songs. Her demeanor was defensive, suggesting she was aware of the public's dislike of her and was prepared to be booed. But to Penangites' credit, the crowd was well-behaved and the look of relief on the faces of her husband and son was apparent to those standing nearby to the stage.
Sad to say, Rosmah flubbed her lines and there long moments of silence when she failed to vocalize the lyrics, embarrasing Najib and the BN lineup.
Perhaps, Rosmah was lucky because the crowd was itching to see Psy and she escaped a public scolding for rude manners and laziness to remember the lyrics to a song meant to convey Umno's wish to be more multiracial and less antagonistic towards the Chinese community. .
No 'oomph' Chang Yeow
As for Gerakan's Chang Yeow, if he is to take over the presidency from the timid Tsu Koon, the future for the embattled party that used to take its rule of Penang for granted appears bleak.
Try as he could, Chang Yeow lacked the 'oomph' to capture the hearts and minds of the new generation of Penangites who are well-educated and much more demanding in the areas of democracy and human rights than their forefathers.
In his speech, Chang Yeow promised that "the best was yet to come for Penang" and that BN was the only vehicle able to transform the state. He also tried hard to rouse applause for Najib, whom he reminded had traveled all the way to celebrate CNY with Penangites. But he failed.
While the crowd was willing to cheer for a united Malaysia, they hardly clapped or cheered when asked to do so for Najib. Further embarrassment was saved only by the quick-thinking of the emcee, who diverted attention with shouts about Psy's imminent appearance on stage.
Sneaky BN? No need for Guan Eng, PR to worry
Chang Yeow's arch rival, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, was absent as he had to welcome the Malaysian Queen, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Haminah, who arrived at the Bayan Lepas International Airport at 11am.
There was also little show of the red, green and yellow T-shirts symbolizing support for the anti-Lynas, pro-environment groups or the Bersih movement for free and fair polls at the event as Lim had suggested. However, this may have been due to the warning from pro-BN police chiefs who had warned there may be "trouble" if Penangites wore such colours to the concert as a show of support for Guan Eng and PR.
Nonetheless, it looks like the Opposition need not have worried. Najib, Chang Yeow and BN shot themselves in the foot.
Overall, the verdict on Psy's magical first gig in Malaysia is a resounding victory for the Penang folk. And a big and perhaps well-deserved slap for the BN for trying to make use of the Korean star as well as the Penang people to further its own political motives.
The last word from Psy is that he will back in Malaysia in April to promote his new single. Hopefully by then, the Malaysian general elections will be over and the Korean mega-star won't have to be so on guard for a sneaky leadership wishful to leverage on his phenomenal global reach and popularity.