Social media the new political battleground


Excerpts from YouTube, which cannot be controlled or influenced, shape the thoughts of youth, not statements or comments by ministers in the traditional media.

I ALWAYS get a kick out of reading newspaper reports on the Umno general assembly every time they come along.

Of course, it is more exciting during the years when party elections are held. You get all sorts of speculation and forecasts, with political observers working overtime to put in their two cents’ worth (at current exchange rates, about RM0.06) of punditry.

Yes, I too am an armchair observer who, if you ask my friends, is prone to self-righteous expositions on what ails our politics and the things that need to be done to change it.

Being friends, they layan my rants but once in a while I get a “talk so much, you go run for office lah” from them. True friends, they are.

Some of them are veterans of political reporting who have covered Umno gatherings for many years.

Their stories are often very insightful and give you a feel of what happened in the hallowed halls of the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC).

The pictures that accompany the coverage of these events are often very good as well, and you cannot help but be visually glued to some of the shots.

I never had the opportunity to cover any Umno general assembly when I was a reporter with The Star, but I did once go to the PWTC just to get a sense of what the fuss was all about and also to check out the goods on sale at the many stalls in the lobby bazaar.

Besides the usual telecast of the party president’s speech, I also remember watching the proceedings on TV a few years ago when Umno decided to let Malaysians get a “live” taste of what went on inside.

That was a short-lived experiment.

But I suppose the most memorable moment for people who follow these things was when former prime minister and Umno president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave his winding-up speech at the assembly in 2002.

I remember it well for a number of reasons. If you are a football fan, you probably would have been waiting for the 2002 World Cup semi-final match between South Korea and Germany to kick off.

If you were a football fan who was into local politics, you probably would have also been flipping between the channels, just to see if anything interesting was going on during Dr Mahathir’s speech.

Indeed, he did more than make people drop whatever else that they were doing with his speech at that party assembly. South Korea versus Germany paled in comparison, not that it was a particularly interesting match.

I have not had the opportunity to listen to Prime Minister and Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s address at the time of writing, but I have read the reports on – and the text of – Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin’s speech at the Youth assembly on Wednesday.

Although not as earth-shaking as some speeches by Umno leaders in the past, portions of it are nonetheless significantly progressive.

It was not the sort of speech that you would expect from many in Umno, but was exactly the kind that you would from Khairy.

Being a youth leader, he naturally spoke at length of the trends and developments among the youth in our country.

Most significantly, he called for a “politics based on thoughts and ideas” where “those who challenge our political ideology must be defeated through the sharpness of our intellect and the superiority of our arguments”.

The primary reason was because “young people today increasingly relish political choices that appeal to their cognitive abilities”.

Khairy went on to argue that “the spread of information through social media such as Facebook and Twitter is now a choice over traditional mass media” and that “their (the youth) thoughts are not shaped by statements or comments by ministers in Buletin Utama or Warta Perdana but by excerpts from YouTube that cannot be controlled or influenced”.

It is not a novel argument, as similar ones have often been made elsewhere by others in the country.

But such arguments seem to have not yet come to be fully accepted as a fact-on-the-ground by many people.

That will change, I believe. If anyone needs proof, “Exhibit A” can be the substantial opposition expressed online to Permodalan Nasional Bhd’s (PNB) plans to build a 100-storey tower called Warisan Merdeka.

As Khairy was delivering his speech on Wednesday, the Facebook page set up to channel protests against the tower was racking up fans by the thousands, and word of it had spread far and wide.

PNB called a press conference on the same day to explain the reasons and rationale behind Warisan Merdeka.

As of Thursday, more than 60,000 Malaysians have said “no” on Facebook to the building of the tower.

It is a noteworthy protest and undoubtedly our politicians will have taken notice, especially the Umno president, who is probably the most technology and social media savvy Prime Minister we have had.

He has called for a new political model for his party, and I am sure the youth and the power they wield online will feature prominently as he expounds further on it at the general assembly.

> Raslan Sharif is no longer in the “youth” category but is always inspired by their idealism.

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