Malaysian MPs rushing to blogging?

Further to my preceding post about the effectiveness or otherwise of politicians using the internet to genuinely engage with people, I thought I would have seen a bit more comment about a genuine blogger, Jeff Ooi, being elected in amongst the upset results of the recent vote in Malaysia, (as I mentioned in a previous post). Whilst no doubt this was due to wider factors than just his blog, from what I can tell blogging seems to have been a key part of his campaigning approach and message. He certainly suggests thatthe internet and other technologies played a key role in triggering a political tsunami in Malaysia.

A comment left on Andrew Leigh’s site by a Malaysian person also supports the idea that use of the internet for direct communication – as opposed to just another form of marketing – might be having real electoral impact there.

Traditional media like the dailies and the TV stations have been under tight control and censorship by the government. That’s why the opposition parties have turned to alternatives like the Internet. In fact, the opposition leader Lim Kit Siang have maintained his personal blog for years, sharing his views and providing an alternative insight to issues in Malaysia. Instead of embracing the Internet like the opposition, the ruling coalition has branded bloggers as ruffians and agents of foreign countries in the news.

My interest was further piqued when I saw this paragraph in a recent piece in the Asia Sentinal about internal tensions in the governing coalition in Malaysia, including dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, after their worse than expected election result.

sensing Badawi’s vulnerability, his enemies within the party are going after him. Usually subservient party lieutenants are speaking up. Some have begun blogging after a survey showed that the Internet influenced about 80 percent of voters aged 20 to 40. More and more often the phrase “listen to the people/grassroots/voters” is being bandied.

I quite like the idea of MPs rushing to set up blogs, although if its mainly to have a bitch about their party colleagues, it could get rather unedifying very quickly (which is possibly another reason why major party MPs in Australia stay away from genuine blogging). I’d be interested to see how many of these blogs actually allow open feedback from the public. If they are just hollow echo chambers, I’d also be surprised if many of them really have much political impact.

This piece from Singapore’s TODAYonline, by Professor Cherian George, who has written about democratic discourse and the internet, takes a more measured view about the role of the internet and blogging.

While I’m on the topic of Malaysia, a looming by-election is likely to have far greater significance than any of the ones coming up soon in Australia. According to the article I quoted above, popular opposition figure, Anwar Ibrahim,

who was barred from politics after being convicted on what were widely regarded as trumped-up charges, will be eligible to stand in a by-election on April 14. At that point, one of the winning candidates from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the People’s Justice Party will stand down from politics to allow Anwar to run.

As head of the unlikely three-party coalition of Keadilan, which is dominated by urban Malays, the largely socialist and Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and PAS, the fundamentalist Islamic Party, Anwar will be in parliament with the renewed power to make trouble for the ruling coalition.

Looking at that three party Coalition, I think Anwar will not always find it a breeze to keep them all on the same page. One has to wonder whether it might in time make the current difficulties between the Liberals and Nationals in Australia look very simple in comparison. Still, for the sake of greater democratisation in our region, one has to wish him and the opposition parties good luck.

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