Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New UMNO and New Media

The Malaysian political cyberspace used to be dominated, in presence, by pro-opposition writers and commenters. It is hardly the case anymore, but BN – consisting mostly of UMNO – bloggers are still not making the right waves to win the battle.

It is quite likely that there are far more pro-UMNO blogs than there are pro-Pakatan. Mushrooming after the 12th General Elections where Internet media proved to be a crucial factor in the poor showing by Barisan Nasional, these blogs become mouthpieces of the party and provide a platform for otherwise localized and low-level members of the party to step up to the national stage. But theirs is a story akin to a large mob going into a war with the wrong weapons, wrong strategy, wrong trickery and an appalling understanding of what the terrain demands.

We all know how important blogs and Internet chatter are, especially in Malaysia where mainstream media is viewed with as much credibility and independence from Authority as a Roman Town Crier. Whilst broadband penetration still leaves much to be desired, many middle class, young professionals, students - many of whom have Internet access – also influence their family members when they return to their hometowns to vote. Hence, the importance of winning the cyber war.

Specifically, pro-UMNO blogs – and perhaps most forms of communications media from UMNO, the Prime Minister’s proclamations excluded – send out the wrong message and go about it in such a way that drive voters away, rather than attract them.

What makes this most frustrating is the fact that the Prime Minister who is also UMNO President has set about a very good and bankable message. Actions notwithstanding, the PM is saying all the right things and appearing calm, steady and winning over Malaysians with his style and demeanor that suggest he knows what he is doing. The truth is that many Malaysians, indeed many humans, vote very much based on perception and what appears to be the case – not necessarily what actually is. But UMNO is failing to replicate this message in cyberspace; in fact in many cases they appear to be completely ignoring it. Herein lies a major failing.

The principal UMNO message today is 1Malaysia, and an inclusive UMNO as outlined by the Prime Minister during the last UMNO General Assembly. All party mouthpieces should make an effort to appropriate this national(ist) agenda and move away from the obsession with cheap,
sensationalist putdowns coupled with unbridled chest-thumping general remarks about the Malay agenda. These may put give a perverted sense of satisfaction as you go to bed – no better feeling than after baking a case on why Anwar is undoubtedly a Jew-agent – but do nothing to win over the undecideds. And not for nothing, polls show that most undecided voters are Malays.

Instead, they must fall in line and repeat the message of unity and acceptance endowed within the spirit of 1Malaysia, as well as embrace the challenge for Malay achievement and success so apparent in the New Economic Model. The party rank and file can no longer play this devilish part of vowing support to the PM’s reform agenda whilst acting the precise opposite. After all, isn’t this new approach of moderation, acceptance, respect, co-existence and humility not so new after all? Aren’t these the very values that Malays often pride themselves with when they say “Melayu bangsa yang bersopan-santun dan beradab” despite often showcasing little of the above? When the people cried for UMNO to change, it was more than simply a change in leadership or image; it was also a change in the party message itself. The most affable salesman of defected goods is still a salesman of defected goods.

Party message aside, UMNO bloggers need to understand that cyberspace is not a place where you simply spew out your message without tact, taste or facts. With politics, the target audience should never be the political players on either side of the fence. Whilst the topics and engagements will often be with the opposition, the judge is always the people whose yardstick is always outside the partisan bubble in which these skirmishes occur. Thus, it is not about putdowns or embarrassing the opponent; much less is it about persuading him that he is wrong because that would be most futile. Instead, it is about convincing the neutral audience with facts, persuasion and keeping them interested with witty intelligence. The most accomplished performer – because politics is everywhere an art – will tell you to respect your audience in order to gain theirs.

Sadly, few of the appointed mouthpieces in UMNO are doing a good enough job engaging the fence-sitters with the right message (although we already have it!) and right approach. The party’s information chiefs and point-men, both in cyber space and in traditional media, do not appear to understand what this new political climate asks of them. And they better overcome that first obstacle of denial quickly, if we are to stand a chance at winning the young votes come next GE. Win the GE we still might, but are we paradoxically about to do it by setting a pattern that will guarantee future losses as newer, post-Merdeka generations rapidly replace older ones? Ponder. And weep.

1 comment:

Azeem said...

best piece u have written so far. insightful and far-sighted albeit over a consequence that may be a torpedo in the hull of the BN mothership...

liken this to the villifying of zaid...hang him too much for booze and the like,risk positioning umno like a bunch of'expedient" religious zealots..this reeks of hypocrisy off course..we all know more than our share of 'alim " boys who knock back a double shot or 2 of premium scotch on occasion on both sides.

Many self appointed moral watchdogs within umno ranks are oblivious to the pressing issue of delicateness and balance in their tirade...hence yr prochecy of likely doom...

enough pragmatic and worldly fence sitters would ask...what has all of that got to do specifically with his (zaid) ability to govern?..has it been proven on a pertinent footing that he has been found inept of duties as a consequence of drink, a drinking habit or a history of past drinking?

for all practising muslims that refrain from drink, big respect!! For surely actions are the truest form of setting the example of the chosen way....i would think a substantial number may be thinking the very questions posed above.

Pakatan has done a great job so far screwing its case up...it shouldnt merit any miracle handovers from UMNO chest beaters dropping the ball near the try zone..

I remember a saying by a roman senator " i dont claim to be a man of the people...my claim is that i am a man for the people" great movie that..Surely, sometimes life(and politics) imitates the arts.