Malaysian politicians take to blogging

By Julia Yeow, DPA,

Kuala Lumpur : At a glance, the web page can easily be mistaken as a government information website with its uninspiring layout, long-winded welcome note and cheesy mugshot. However, further exploration will reveal that the site actually belongs to a most unlikely blogger – an ageing politician with Malaysia’s embattled ruling party.

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Similar blogs belonging to at least a dozen veteran politicians with Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition have sprung up over the last three months.

The reason for this sudden craze of blogging stems from the March 8 elections, where the Front lost control of five states and failed to win a two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time in more than five decades.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi attributed a major reason for their losses on the influence that the Internet – specifically blogs – had over voters. Abdullah admitted that his government had “certainly lost the Internet war”.

“It was a very, very serious mistake on our part,” admitted Abdullah, but added that it is “not too late” to start appealing to blogger and Internet users.

Opposition members, who claim that there is practically a blackout of opposition coverage in government-controlled mainstream media, had taken their views on anything from administration controversies to misuse of public funds to the blogging community.

Lim Kit Siang, leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, has been blogging since 1997 and former deputy premier-turned-opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s blog is extremely popular.

Opposition candidate Jeff Ooi, who had no prior political experience before he won a parliamentary seat in the northern Penang state, writes a popular political blog, which voices his concerns against government corruption.

“Voters were beginning to see a side of the government that had never been portrayed in mainstream media, and an increasing number of them were angry with what they discovered (about the government) from the blogs,” said a political analyst.

A recent study conducted by a local university on the link between bloggers and opposition sympathizers found that while Internet content alone had not caused voters to choose the opposition, 55.2 percent of 1,100 respondents were influenced by the information they had obtained from blogs.

Baharuddin Azizone, one out of three academicians who conducted the study said the failure of the ruling coalition to clarify issues openly via the mainstream media had pushed the public to obtain information from the Internet.

“We cannot deny that the digital divide still exists in the country, but we can no longer sweep aside the role of new media,” he said.

Baharuddin welcomed the recent influx of blogs by government politicians, even if some of the websites were actually created by assistants and not the politicians personally.

“When ministers and politicians hop onto this phenomenon, it means they admit the clout of blogs and online journalism, hence exposing readers to balanced views and opinions,” he told Bernama news agency.

Abdullah’s pre-election government had been disapproving of bloggers and Internet news sites which were critical of the government, with a cabinet minister calling bloggers “stupid”, “monkeys” and “liars”.

Former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin had suggested a classification mechanism for bloggers, as an effort to monitor online articles.

“We have to control this. It is feared that these (blog sites) will be misused by those who have an agenda to spread slander. By right, there should be a mechanism to control this phenomenon,” he had told reporters.

After the election, Zainuddin was fired and replaced with Ahmad Shabery, who played to a different tune when it came to blogs.

“If there is something newsworthy, I don’t see anything wrong in them posting it. Everyone has the freedom to use the blogs as an information distribution centre,” said Ahmad.

Less than a month after the elections, National Front politicians and party members began setting up their own blogs. But the politicians may be disappointed to find their efforts unappreciated and in vain.

“The government is reading the wrong reasons for their failure, such as blaming their losses on the fact that they did not blog,” said lawyer and blogger Joshua Chin.

“Voters were tired of all the corruption and abuse of power.

“Going out and starting a blog isn’t addressing the real problems,” he said.