Malaysian politics: $4 sandals vs luxury Birkin bags

Image source, BATA/Getty Images

Image caption, Cheap and comfortable sandals vs. the coveted Hermes Birkin bag

There’s a famous line in Sex and the City: “That’s not a bag. It’s a Birkin.”

Luxury French handbags, international symbols of wealth and status, were back in the spotlight this week in an unlikely place in Malaysia: a police-pushed shopping cart.

Police conducted further searches of properties linked to the suspects and seized over 200 boxes of luxury items, 72 bags of jewellery, cash of various denominations, watches and other valuables.

Image caption, Boxes of Hermes Birkin bags were taken away one by one in heavily guarded police trucks.

Among the items seized were dozens of orange boxes containing Hermes bags – orange is the brand’s signature color – apparently belonging to former first lady Rosmah Mansor.

Prices for Hermes Birkin bags range from $8,000 (£6,000) to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Much of the police action was live-streamed online, allowing Malaysians to watch as the precious bags were loaded into supermarket shopping carts (“The irony of this scene,” tweeted one Malaysian) and then loaded into waiting police trucks to be driven away.

Najib’s lawyers said the searches amounted to “unjustified harassment” and that the items seized “appear to be of little value”.

But for many Malaysians, the seizures are symbolic of allegations of corruption and reports of lavish lifestyles that contributed to Najib’s downfall.

Malaysian police confirmed that searches of properties across the capital, Kuala Lumpur, were linked to an investigation into the massive corruption scandal 1MDB.

Image caption, Both Najib and his wife deny any involvement in the 1MDB corruption.

Najib is accused of embezzling about $700 million from the fund, which was intended to promote foreign investment in the country.

He has always denied the allegations and has been cleared by Malaysian authorities, but he remains under investigation in several other countries and could be charged again in Malaysia.

According to the Department of Justice, billions of dollars are missing.

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Rosmah’s extravagant shopping habits and love of designer goods have drawn widespread resentment from many Malaysians over the years.

The attack sparked heated debate on social media. #Birkin It’s trending on Twitter.

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“Victoria Beckham is famous for owning 100 Birkin bags, but it looks like someone else has taken her crown,” the source said. Twitter user“I have absolutely no idea why Rosmah needed 284 pieces,” tweeted another user, Aisha Sukol.

“The bags may be ugly, but they’re a better investment than gold,” said one blogger in Kedah.

The search has drawn comparisons with Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, who was notorious for her love of shoes and jewellery.

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But criticism of Malaysia’s former ruling party’s fashion choices hasn’t been limited to Birkin handbags: Facebook posts showcasing Malaysian politicians and the flashy watches they wear have also gone viral on Facebook this week.

In contrast, and with surprising timing, the new prime minister was spotted at a mosque this week wearing standard brown sandals.

Mahathir Mohamad’s supporters saw it as a “show of frugality”, just in time for the holy month of Ramadan, a time of devout faith and fasting widely observed in the Muslim-majority country.

“Our humble Mahathir [doesn’t need] “No Gucci, no Hermes, just Bata,” said one Malaysian Instagram user who was the first to post a photo of the new prime minister, which quickly went viral. “Tung” is a Malay term of respect.

Image caption, Dr Mahathir wonders how he became an unlikely fashion icon.

Bata, a low-cost Swiss brand popular with schoolchildren in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore, jumped on the social media hype and quickly claimed Mahathir’s sandals as their own in this Instagram post.

No wonder these shoes have sold out online.

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So it was no coincidence, he says, that he was photographed wearing $4 sandals.

After a dramatic week, he said, Mahathir, a cunning politician, now appears to be writing the script for Malaysian politics, portraying his ousted predecessor as the villain.

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