Malaysian PM sparks national uproar after switching from rice to quinoa

Najib Razak's preference for more expensive grain has seen him mocked by political opponents ahead of election later in year

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak at a rally in December 2017
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak at a rally in December 2017

The Prime Minister of Malaysia has sparked national uproar after revealing he prefers quinoa to rice.

Najib Razak, who is running for re-election later this year amid allegations of corruption, said he switched to the more expensive grain as part of a new diet.

At a 2018 Budget question and answer session on Thursday he was recorded saying: "I don't eat rice. I eat quinoa. My son introduced me to it. It is better than rice."

He was quickly mocked by opposition politicians who claimed he was out of touch with ordinary people.

At a time of rising living costs, Mr Najib is already under scrutiny because of his luxury lifestyle and an ongoing kleptocracy investigation in the United States into $4.5bn (£3.2bn) allegedly stolen from a Malaysian government investment fund.

Opposition leaders lined up to criticise the comments, with rival candidate for Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, saying: "I only eat local rice."

Lim Kit Siang MP claimed in an article for the Malaysian Times that quinoa was 23 times more expensive than the rice eaten by 30 million Malaysians.

He said: "This reminds me of the Marie Antoinette story ... she was supposed to have said 'Let them eat cake' when she learned that the peasants had no bread.

"The 14th General Election will be quinoa vs rice; clean government vs kleptocracy; and Najib vs people of Malaysia."

Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Penang, vowed "rice will win over quinoa".

Online critics also posted screenshots of Ashman Najib's Instagram posts which appear to show him celebrating the launch of "our brand of quinoa", Quib.

The Prime Minister's office was forced to defend his preference for quinoa as "part of a healthy diet regime" in a post on Facebook.

It said in a statement: "It is also on the advice of a doctor. In addition, the Prime Minister also performs regular workouts for health and fitness.

"We are pleased to note that the Prime Minister attends many events every week and is always entertained with various meals including rice in the functions."

Najib has denied wrongdoing in connection with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund scandal, which was described as "the worst form of kleptocracy" by the US Attorney General Jeff Sessions in December.

The PM was welcomed to the White House by US President Donald Trump in September.

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