The episode shows that while the ruling BN coalition has vast human, financial and media resources at its disposal for the upcoming election campaign, social networking tools continue to expose government gaffes and blunders, magnifying and slanting them to audiences several times larger than spectators at the original event.
Anil Netto, Asia Times Online
PENANG - As a pivotal general election looms in Malaysia, online social media tools are playing a prominent role in challenging the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition's overwhelming dominance of traditional print and broadcast media.
Election campaigning took a Gangnam Style-twist on February 11 when popular South Korean musician Psy staged a live concert in Penang. BN Politicians who hoped to gain a popular boost from the global singing and dancing sensation, however, lost more face than they gained, underscoring the growing power of social media to influence public opinion.
Seeking favor with youth and ethnic Chinese voters, the BN coalition invited Psy to perform during Lunar New Year celebrations held in Penang. The concert was strategically held at the Han Chiang College, the same venue where the opposition Democratic Action Party held a mass rally just days before sweeping to power in the state at the 2008 general election.
Federal level BN politicians likely thought they had pulled off a local electoral coup by securing Psy's presence at a free open house event organized by the Malaysian Chinese Association, a BN component party. Both the open house celebration and PSY's performance were advertised widely on BN-aligned television stations and newspapers. Elections must be held by June but have not yet been officially called.
However, a series of blunders spread over social media arguably turned the event into a public relations disaster for the BN. Critical bloggers were quick to note that the Gangnam Style dance is actually a parody of the high-flying ways of the wealthy elite in Seoul's Gangnam district, similar to the extravagant lifestyles many BN politicians are known to lead.
Fans in Malaysia pleaded on Psy's Facebook page for him to snub the event to avoid being used by the BN as a political tool. Questions were quickly raised about whether public funds were used to bankroll the performance, though the private company that managed the event later said it was neither engaged nor paid by the government.
On the night before the event, thousands of flags bearing the logo "1Malaysia" - Prime Minister's Najib Razak's slogan in promotion of national unity in the ethnically divided country - were put up on roadsides around Penang in a clear attempt to associate Najib with Psy's highly anticipated performance.
On the morning of the actual performance, Najib himself took to the stage at the concert, asking the crowd repeatedly, "Are you ready for Psy?" Each time, the crowd of about 40,000 in the sweltering heat roared back, "yes".
Najib followed up by asking the crowd, "Are you ready for BN?" Video clips of the beck and call showed clearly that the "no's" overwhelmed the "yes's" to the question. Najib asked twice more and each time the "no's" grew louder. Within 24 hours, different copies of the one minute video-clip of the rebuff had gone viral on Youtube with over half a million collective views.
BN leaders tried to downplay the incident, including in affiliated newspaper coverage that portrayed the concert as a blow to the political opposition. "Not everyone present had yelled 'no'. We have video records showing a large segment of the audience had yelled 'yes' when the prime minister asked that question several times," a Penang BN leader was reported as saying.
More red faces emerged when invitations to Psy to join in the tossing of the 'yee sang', the Lunar New Year salad, with BN leaders including Najib on stage went unheeded. Despite repeated several loud calls by the event's emcees for the Gangnam Stylestar to return to the stage to join BN politicians, Psy failed to appear.
To many observers, Psy had partially heeded the call of his fans not to be used as a political tool ahead of what are expected to be hotly contested general elections. A video-clip of Psy's no-show on stage has since been released on Youtube and received 100,000 views in two days.
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