Malaysian PM sparks national uproar after switching from rice to quinoa

Peter Stubley
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak at a rally in December 2017: Reuters

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.