Malaysia PM Najib mocked for saying he eats pricey quinoa now, not rice

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said he switched to the healthier quinoa after he was introduced to it by his son. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has been mocked by the opposition after saying he doesn't eat rice anymore, and has switched to quinoa which he said is healthier.

He said he was introduced to the Peruvian grain by his son.

Opposition leaders have jumped on the reference to the more expensive quinoa, with Tun Mahathir Mohamad tweeting on Friday (Feb 23) "I only eat local rice".

Dr Mahathir's tweet had an accompanying meme showing a beggar, and the words: "What he eats costs RM15 for 250g (S$5.07), what the people eat, rice, costs RM2.70 for 1kg."

Opposition veteran Lim Kit Siang claimed he had never heard of quinoa until now.

He added, according to Malaysiakini news site, that "quinoa which Najib eats is about 23 times more expensive than rice, eaten by 30 million Malaysians."

Social media posts by others showed that Datuk Seri Najib's son Ashman Najib had in 2014 posted on Instagram that "our brand of quinoa is finally on the shelves!". There was an accompanying picture of a brand of the product on a supermarket shelf.

There are at least two other Instragram posts by Mr Ashman showing his interest in the gluten-free food.

The issue recalled a 2014 controversy in which Mr Najib said people who complained about the rising cost of living did not credit the government for falling prices of food like kangkung (water spinach) .

Memes ridiculing him over the kangkung comments were quickly created and disseminated by government critics.

In the latest controversy, the premier was speaking in a television interview aired on Thursday (Feb 22) where he said he could not exercise as frequently as he wanted, so he watched his diet.

"Not as often I'd like to (exercise). I like to eat. My problem is I love food. Like most Malaysians.

"But I have to control (my eating). For example, I don't eat rice, but quinoa. My son introduced me to quinoa, a food from Peru.

"It is protein-based, so it has less carbohydrates and less sugar content, so it is better than rice," Mr Najib said in a live TV session discussing the 2018 Budget.

The comments were made amid widespread complaints from Malaysians over the rising cost of goods in the country and difficulty in making ends meet.

In the programme, Mr Najib told Malaysians to live within their means if they want to improve the quality of their lives.

"This does not mean we do not want our peoples' quality of life to improve. Of course we want them to progress upwards but live within your means. If you live within your means God willing you will be alright," he said.

Mr Lim, a leader of opposition Democratic Action Party, told a news conference in Penang on Friday: "I had never heard of quinoa - in fact, I did not even know that quinoa existed."

"I had to ask around whether anyone knew anything about quinoa," he said, as quoted by Malaysiakini news site.

He said: "The 14th general election will be quinoa versus rice, clean government versus kleptocracy, and Najib versus the people of Malaysia."

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