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Thursday, 14 September 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Winning the war of perception

IT is apparent by now that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s White House visit went far better than expected.

The video footage and photographs of Najib and US President Donald Trump were all over the news portals and social media by late Tuesday Malaysian time.

From their double-clasp handshake to their body language, both leaders looked equally pleased to be meeting again after their last encounter, which was at a golf course.

A picture, as they say, speaks a thousand words and made for rather powerful optics back home.

Najib’s White House meeting has taken the wind out of his detractors’ sails. Pakatan Harapan had pulled out all the stops to undermine the Washington, DC, trip weeks before it took place.

There was a steady stream of bad publicity and sensational news reports to denounce the meeting.

Back home, the attacks ranged from saying that the White House invitation was no big deal, to outlandish claims that Najib is a “wanted man” in the United States.

There were even claims that, as a result of the visit, Malaysia would become a puppet of the United States.

The Pakatan campaign suggests that they do not quite understand the way politics has shifted on Capitol Hill with Trump in the Oval Office.

It also suggests that the visit meant much more to the Opposition than they cared to admit.

Their plan was to undermine the meeting’s value and keep the 1MDB campaign alive until the polls.

Pakatan had zeroed in on Najib and 1MDB as the ticket to winning the next general election.

They have managed to dent Najib’s image, but the 1MDB fire is not burning like before and surveys have shown that the majority of voters are tired of this complicated story.

“The Opposition is way off the mark. They say we are a pariah state, that nobody wants to have anything to do with us.

“But our Prime Minister is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with President Trump.

“I remember a certain leader saying he (Najib) would be arrested if he went to America.

“The problem is that they like to create crazy stories,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Dahlan.

Gerakan Youth politician Ivanpal S. Grewal said: “There have been so many spurious attacks on this visit. There are leaders out there who want a White House meeting but cannot get it. It’s a coveted meeting.”

There was no denying that Najib wanted to show that despite everything the Opposition has said in the last few years, he is welcomed at the Oval Office.

Najib’s jet touched down at the US military airbase near Washington, DC, on a crisp and cool morning. News of the death of the Sultan of Kedah had reached him by then.

Despite being a generation apart, Najib had formed a rather special bond with Almarhum Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’ad­zam Shah during the latter’s kingship.

There was no doubt that the former King was terribly fond of Najib and moments after reaching his hotel, Najib was surfing the Bernama website for reports on the Sultan’s passing.

The White House visit started out on a rather sad note.

America, too, was marking a day of remembrance for the Sept 11 tragedy while further south, Americans were struggling to recover from what has been described as the hurricane of the century.

But Najib arrived with a clear agenda on trade, investments and bilateral ties.

This was a meticulously planned trip. Even his choice of hotel – Trump International Hotel – was not a coincidence.

His statement outlining his thoughts about the visit was published the day before his arrival in The Hill, a political website with a following among US lawmakers and those in the White House.

He pressed the right buttons in the article, touching on their shared history as trade partners.

He stressed Malaysia’s commitment to counter violent extremism and terror attacks, which he followed up on during his meetings with the US side.

The opposition parties had launched a war of perception against Najib and it was played out on the world stage.

They did damage, although they did not quite achieve what they wanted.

“As far as we are concerned, the Department of Justice investigation (into 1MDB) is still on, the White House officials have said it is independent of the visit,” said PKR vice-president Shamsul Iskandar.

But, said Abdul Rahman, the White House visit has allowed Najib to reset the perception of what the Opposition has been saying about him and his Government.

That does not mean his detractors have given up because by yesterday morning, a fake photograph, doctored to show Najib kissing the hand of his host, was circulating on WhatsApp.

The picture was actually a collage of two images – an old picture of Najib kissing his mother’s hand superimposed on an actual picture from the Trump-Najib meeting.

The perception war – on both sides – will grow fiercer towards the general election.