Social media to the fore

Pundits expect the Internet to be the main battleground in GE13 to a greater extent than in GE12. 

B Nantha Kumar, FMT

You could almost hear the nation letting out a collective sigh of relief yesterday when the Prime Minister finally broke what some would call the most sustained suspense thus far in Malaysia’s political history.

We say “thus far” because Najib’s announcement of Parliament’s dissolution marks the beginning of an even more nerve-wracking episode in a drama that will end only with the announcement of the GE13 results.

Most of us won’t bother to stay in our seats to watch the closing credits. We already know whom to thank or blame—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other communication channels that come under the rubric of social media.

To be sure, the combatants will still speak at ceramahs, distribute pamphlets and stick their posters all over the place.

However, the main battleground will be in cyberspace, like it was in 2008, with the difference that social media, by virtue of their wide reach through interactive engagement, afford much more coverage than what we may now call the “traditional weblogs” that were the campaign media for GE12.

GE12 made history because the ruling BN recorded its worst electoral performance ever, slashing its long-held two-thirds majority in Parliament and giving five states to its rival, Pakatan Rakyat (then known as Barisan Alternatif), although Perak went back to BN after several state assemblymen left Pakatan and declared themselves independent.

No one—whether he supports be BN or Pakatan or is a fence sitter—doubts that the Internet will play a pivotal role again in deciding the outcome of GE13.

Najib himself recognised this long ago and was among the first top Malaysian politicians to embrace social media with a big hug.

But whatever medium it decides to communicate through, BN or at least Umno is expected to once again fall back on its tried-and-true method of winning the votes of those who fear the unknown. Pundits say it will try to instil fear in those who don’t have it and fan it where it is already existent.