#RespectMyPM: Online war breaks out in Malaysia

Najib Razak arrives at the Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Malaysian netizens have been active in voicing their displeasure at Prime Minister Najib Razak

A social media war has broken out in Malaysia between supporters of embattled leader Najib Razak - and those demanding his resignation.

The hashtag #RespectMyPM began to trend on Twitter on Sunday. It has now shot to the top of Malaysia's Twitter chart.

It is unclear if the hashtag started out as an official campaign.

But Johor politician Azalina Othman Said provoked an early outcry from netizens after she tweeted her support for Mr Najib along with her state flag.

"I am from #Johor, and I #RespectMyPM," she said in a tweet.

Other political figures, including Youth Chief Tan Keng Liang, also came out in defence of Mr Najib. "Criticism is fine but don't damage our own country," he tweeted. "We are all Malaysians. It's our country!"

"This is a good campaign," tweeted Adibah Baharum, "Even if you hate someone, it doesn't mean you have the right to insult them. Don't let your hate blind you."

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Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has been plagued by serious corruption allegations regarding his reported involvement in a high-profile financial scandal over the misuse of state funds.

While he has denied all charges and has been officially cleared, calls for his resignation continue to grow louder, especially among Malaysia's vocal netizen community.

Mr Najib has since issued a stern warning to netizens, urging them to refrain from abusing social media and "causing disharmony" in the country.

Image copyright Twitter: YBAOS63
Image caption This early image, shared by Ms Said, provoked an angry response from Malaysian netizens on Twitter

But that has not stopped thousands of his critics from stepping in to voice their anger, turning the hashtag into a battleground against the prime minister.

"Why should we respect our leader when he's actually destroying the image and the status of Malaysia?" asked student Leong Jia Meng.

"I'm sorry but I just don't respect my prime minister," said a Twitter user in the capital Kuala Lumpur. "Surely this is some kind of satire," another user remarked.

One Twitter user, student activist Dorian Wilde, pointed out the revision of the hashtag, which was used by Indian supporters by then-newly elected leader Narendra Modi in 2014.

"Oh the irony. Go back far enough and you'll see that #RespectMyPM was used by Modi supporters in 2014," he observed in a tweet.

The hashtag also gathered momentum on Facebook, where Malaysians flooded Mr Najib's official page with posts, including hashtags and comments criticising his role as leader of the country.

This movement has happened on his page several times before.

'Respect Malaysia, not the prime minister'

Image copyright Twitter

Calls demanding Mr Najib's resignation also continued to grow louder, with the addition of a second hashtag, #RespectMalaysia.

Malaysian netizens then began to retaliate against the pro-establishment voices on social media.

A strongly worded tweet from Syed Saddiq read: "Respect cannot forced. It must be earned. Respect Malaysia, not the prime minister."

"I firmly believe respecting Malaysia is a lot more important than respecting the prime minister," said another.

"I choose to respect Malaysia rather than any individual," tweeted another Malaysian user.

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