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Free passage idea mooted even for VPs

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 03:08 PM PDT

The enlarged voter base of 146,500 (instead of 2,500 delegates previously), makes for an interesting Umno elections this time.

The Umno elections, to be conducted for the first time under a new format, begin at the protracted branch level next month (an estimated 18,000 branches), followed by voting in the crucial 193 divisions from September which would ultimately decide on the standings of the party's main office-bearers, including the top five.

By Syed Nadzri Syed Harun, FMT

Contest or no contest? Practically everyone is asking this of the momentous and defining Umno elections coming our way so soon after the rather stormy national vote.

Latest we heard there are moves to press for a no-contest ruling for the top five positions in the party — president, deputy and the three VPs. Is that good or bad? Or potentially double-edged like many political steps of late?

The Umno elections, to be conducted for the first time under a new format, begin at the protracted branch level next month (an estimated 18,000 branches), followed by voting in the crucial 193 divisions from September which would ultimately decide on the standings of the party's main office-bearers, including the top five.

This will culminate in the main event, the general assembly, the date of which has yet to be fixed. But possibly in late October or November.

The outcome of the 13th general election last month has brought forth all kinds of opinions and comments regarding the Umno polls and the position of its top officials, one of which is that there should be no contest for the top posts including for the three VPs so as to "strengthen the party."

The argument is that GE13 had become too divisive for the whole country and to some extent even for Barisan Nasional (BN). So Umno, as the pillar of the BN, must restore the strength by remaining solidly united — and that means avoiding contests for the main positions in the party elections.

Overall, BN floundered in GE13, winning only 133 of the 222 parliamentary seats, seven less than in 2008. In addition, there was a clear decline in support from the urban communities, causing Chinese-based BN partner MCA to decline representation in the government.

Statistically, Umno on the other hand recorded an improvement in the number of seats won, both at state and federal levels, hence the asssertion by some that Umno should remain steadfast and go for status quo.

This appears to be a hard bargain, firstly because while it has become quite common for the post of president or, to a lesser extent, deputy president, to be declared a no-contest zone by consensus, the fight for the three VP seats have over the years always been tough and trying, through a vote.

In the last round for instance, there were eight contenders but the ones who finally got elected were Hishammuddin Hussein, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Shafie Apdal.

It is hard not to see the same propensity for a keen contest again this time.



Social media in Malaysia

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 02:41 PM PDT

Martin (third from right) moderating the Cafe Latte Chat with (from left) Shahid, Niki, Zara, Kavilan and Syahredzan.

In this Cafe Latte chat, we bring together lawyer Syahredzan Johan, digital strategist Zara Kahan, senior social media strategist Niki Cheong, senior asset management analyst Kavilan Nakaswaram, and ex-private secretary to Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Shahid Shayaa, to discuss social media in Malaysia and whether it has gone overboard after the 13th general election. The chat was moderated by Star Online news editor Martin Vengadesan.

The Star

Martin: After 2008, one of the Internet's biggest social media influences were bloggers. Since then, Facebook and Twitter have become major players. Is social media use at its peak, or will it become even more influential? Has the impact been a positive or negative one, and should people like Papagomo be able to say whatever they want with unrestricted freedom?

Zara: In the past, restrictions upon freedom of speech were very political in nature. I don't think that anybody can be allowed to say whatever they want. The boundaries that I would support are, for instance, hate speech. But there must be a healthy debate regarding the restriction of freedoms, There shouldn't be a top-bottom approach where one authority decides what limitations to put on freedom of speech and then protect people from said information. As to whether social media has gone too far - I think analysing social media as if it's a sentient animal is erroneous. A lot of political parties say 'Social media is being bad to me.' and treat it like a conglomeration of people. But social media is a reflection of society, not a tool in itself. People have always thought these thoughts. The difference is that now we actually have avenues to speak out and express ourselves.

Niki: We have to look at social media as individuals who are speaking and look at the culture of how people behave when using this technology. Although these are thoughts that people are voicing out, it's human nature to have certain barriers when talking to others in real life. But once we go online, it's a different avenue with different rules. This goes back to MIRC (Microsoft Internet Relay Chat) where there was so much anonymity, and we've taken those elements without realising we are so much more public in our profiles now, and I think that's what's making the difference.

Martin: Has the establishing of social media improved communication in Malaysian society?

Niki: Finally, everyone has a platform to speak up. As someone who grew up in the 80s, we were brought up in an environment where we were not encouraged to speak up. There weren't a lot of platforms to do so back then. Suddenly, we had blogs and everything changed. People finally feel that they can actually say things. In my opinion, people haven't adapted to using social media yet. We know how to use all its features and how to fill our time with it. But I don't think we've thought about how we're using it and the impact it's making.

Shahid: With social media, we need to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. It's a polarity to be managed, not a problem to be solved. Social media encourages you to voice opinions. But suddenly, you have an overload of information and everyone becomes an expert overnight. The problem with information overload is that there's a high chance of false information. Sometimes we get excited and just keep sharing. In a mature democracy, you don't have this kind of herd mentality. As a responsible citizen, check the facts before sharing any content. Let's look at content in terms of white, grey, and black. Many of these hardcore political bloggers are playing on the black (such as sex videos etc). But most people gravitate to grey, which is a bit of fiction and a bit of fact. But not entirely white - which can be information on the GTP, ETP, etc - because it can be very boring.

Martin: So is there a sitting on a powder keg situation here, where social media could be playing a dangerous role?

Kavilan: I think social media is self-regulating. If you give false or wrong information, someone out there will correct you. Then you either learn from it or reject it outright.

Niki: For my Master's dissertation, I looked at 10,000 tweets from Bersih. The most retweeted picture was one where the whole city was yellow - even Dataran Merdeka, which was totally cordoned off, and everybody could see that the picture was fake. It got almost one thousand retweets. Though the original tweeter was told it was fake, he said someone else sent it to him. But others still retweeted it and the misinformation continued. If he was self-regulating, he should have removed it or tweeted an apology for the fake picture. So I disagree when you say it is.

Kavilan: People will respond. I didn't mean that the person would be self-regulating. I meant the whole entity of social media - the people around you and your community would evolve and become self-regulating.

Zara: Social media is made to seem like it's a really harmful tool, which scares people unnecessarily. But before you start restricting social media, there is the burden on you to prove the harm. If we can prove there's actual harm, there are already laws in place - such as slander and defamation. But within society itself there will always be a spread of misinformation. The only problem we should be concerned with is social listening. How we read social media, rather than how people use social media.

Syahredzan: To me, social media is a good thing. If you ask me whether it's gone too far, I'll say "Maybe!", but I wouldn't have it any other way. With social media, the state's monopoly on information has been broken forever. We may come to point where it might go a bit too far but we will deal with it as we go along.

Martin: So you will not support any form of regulation to curb hate speech?

Syahredzan: Regulations with certain barriers. For instance, I have a problem with Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998. It basically says whoever posts anything which annoys people online can be an offence. When you have that kind of regime, it's far too restrictive. The only thing where the Act holds water, is to protect from things like animosity between races. It can't measure up against current democratic norms. Even then, you can argue that it's provided for in the Penal Code. To me, the Sedition Act needs to go.

Kavilan: If something is indeed seditious or defamatory, then the law should be there to take action. We can't put a blanket ban to prevent it from happening because that would curb freedom of speech. I should be able to speak my mind, but it is up to you whether you want to listen.

Zara: The problem with sedition law currently is that it's a bit too general. We have to discuss what the terms of hate speech are. And Syahredzan, if we introduced hate speech legislation here, would we have to craft a new act?

Syahredzan: I'd say our Penal Code would suffice. You don't need a specific media council or a specific minister to censure it, because you've currently got laws to do that. It's a normal criminal penalty.

Martin: Does social media lead to a disconnect from reality?

Zara: The problem is when people use social media as a gauge to judge something. In the context of government, GLCs etc, they don't really connect or tend to have distorted view of how social media works or why people tweet a certain way. For example, I heard from a lot from the Barisan side saying Pakatan controls social media! But no one can control social media. No one can buy it, no one can own it.

Syahredzan: I actually followed the Barisan Twitter account during the campaign period. Pakatan doesn't have one. I wanted to go to a Barisan ceramah and Barisan's Twitter didn't provide me that information. People think just having a Twitter account is all there is. But all we want is information.

Kavilan: Print media is one-way communication. If I don't agree with you, I can't respond or rebut. On social media, people can go against any argument and discuss it. Some think they can blare out propaganda 24/7.

Shahid: Take the Himpunan Rakyat for example - some 103,000 tweets were generated over 24 hours from 25,000 people. When you look at the data points, it's the same sort of people i.e. those who are in Bersih. They have integrated the on the ground campaign with an online presence. Kavilan: It goes back to politicians themselves, not the party. For example, Nurul Izzah and Khairy Jamaluddin engage people.

Niki: They're organic users of social media. They know how to use it, and they know what to say and the right time to say something.

Martin: What about advertisements on social media?

Zara: Facebook advertisements can be effective if they reach the right people. Facebook has some very smart filters in place.

Niki: What annoys me more are sponsored posts. The problem goes back to what Barisan did with ads on social networks. Syahredzan: If it was a Facebook election, PR would have won hands down. The momentum translated into the popular vote. To me, whatever on-the-ground sentiments we all had were accurate. It's just not widespread.

Niki: Take "Ini Kali Lah" (a Sabahan term) - I don't think Pakatan came up with that. It suddenly grew and became the slogan on posters. Because it came from the ground, it's organic. There's value in ads, but social media is organic and works better.

Martin: Speaking of social media management, most of you here were @twt_malaysia curators. Can you share the kind of engagement there was?

Niki: It was fascinating, and a totally different audience from what I have on my own Twitter account. The followers are slightly younger, and a bit more earnest. If you look at the things that are shared, such as Bersih, the number of Malay blogposts that were critical of it were getting a high number of retweets. That made me think there's a whole other element that we're not seeing. But I think there's something else happening somewhere else, especially with different languages.

Syahredzan: Once, I moderated a forum with three other hijabsters and each of them had more followers than me! They don't tweet on politics, because it's not good for business, which some of them have. They tweet more about their lifestyle. This is another aspect of social media, because we are tuned into this one.

Niki: In Malaysia, the Malay market is huge. Look at urban English-language bloggers - 30,000 hits a day. And then Hanis Zalikha straightaway gets 128,000 hits.

Kavilan: The political issue in social media is very young, and I think it's a fad. Give it four months after the elections, and the popularity of political posts will wane. Then after three years, it'll rise again.

Zara: I don't think it's just popular culture or a fad. Interest in politics grows with how people are invested in their country, in their democracy. The amount of users now shows people are vested in Malaysia. It's shows the people and their perception of politics in Malaysia have changed.

Martin: Closing thoughts on your own social media use and the scene in Malaysia?

Shahid: It takes up a lot of your time. It's good to have panels like this to have closure. Online debates don't really have closure.

Kavilan: My online interaction evolved into face-to-face interaction. I met a lot of friends through Twitter. We've met and talked and disagreed on politics for two to three hours. It's information sharing, and social media was the catalyst. I was also off Twitter for a fortnight by choice before the general election. I had threats from people who disagreed with me, who said I did too much damage talking for the Opposition. But I came back. What I thought is my opinion and mine alone. Whether someone else follows my line of thought is the other person's issue. It's not my prerogative to tell him how to think. I can only share my opinion, discuss and learn from someone else.

Niki: I don't live in the 'virtual world' but I've always seen social media and technology in general as an extension of myself because I grew up with it. I've become so reliant on it, but I don't see it as an addiction. I love the diversity of opinions and making friends. It's become a convenient communication tool as well.

Syahredzan: Social media, to me, is a godsend. Tweeting is not just something you do because you want people to hear you. I use it because I want to get information. I'll scroll my timeline to see what the biggest issue is. It's an extension of myself.

Zara: This is why I like social media and will fight against any form of regulation against it, because social media exposes me to a diverse range of opinions. When I was a teenager, I thought Malaysia was a one-note country where everybody agreed with one another. Now, Malaysia has become a more exciting place for me because of social media.

Niki: The magnitude of impact that social media has on the expansion of social ties is quite fantastic. Human beings are all so grounded in a physical way by geographical boundaries. You don't get new information from your bunch of friends because they're all talking about the same thing. But social media has allowed us to break free from clustering. Last time, to get information, you need to find one link. But now, this link exists in so many different forms. It's not just in an acquaintance, but in a tweet, a hashtag, a search. That whole social ties concept makes social media so fascinating.


Anwar, Azmin blamed for PKR losses

Posted: 03 Jun 2013 02:06 PM PDT

Grassroots leaders say the party could have done better if the two had not dominated candidate selection.

Free Malaysia Today

As Pakatan Rakyat prepares a legal challenge against some of the results of the recent general election, there is a feeling at the grassroots that the pact's top leaders should accept some blame for Barisan Nasional's continued control of Putrajaya.

In interviews with FMT, PKR figures at state and divisional levels said the top leaders of the three parties in the pact all made some blunders, but they reserved their harshest criticism for their own leaders, specifically party supremo Anwar Ibrahim and deputy president Azmin Ali.

Most of these informants were candidates in the election. Some of them won and some lost, but all of them said it would have been futile for them, as lower-rung leaders, to point out to the top leadership the errors they were making in preparing for the election.

They said the main reason PKR lost many promising seats, including those it won in 2008, was that the process of choosing candidates was dominated by Anwar and Azmin. Azmin chaired the party's election committee, which had final say in the choice of candidates.

As a result, they added, the candidates they recommended were dropped in favour of the two leaders' cronies.

"They even overruled the party president," said one source.

"It's okay if a candidate proposed by a division is rejected because he has some bad record or has never worked in the constituency identified for him.

"But many of the rejected candidates were clean and had worked tirelessly for the party. They had brought in new members and done all the other things that an aspiring candidate should do. Furthermore, they were well received by PAS and DAP at the respective constituencies."

According to the sources, PKR could have won at least 10 additional parliament seats if the party had accepted the candidates proposed by the respective divisions. These are Bayan Lepas, Kulim Bandar Baru, Langkawi, Tanjung Malim, Bagan Serai, Pasir Salak, Hulu Selangor, Setiawangsa, Johor Bahru and Labuan.

Other sources said PKR would have found it tough to take Langkawi, Johor Bahru and Labuan no matter who the candidates were.

Silent protest

However, they added, the party should have been able to win Bayan Lepas, Kulim Bandar Baru, Machang, Bagan Serai and Hulu Selangor (all of which it won in 2008) and probably Tanjung Malim, Pasir Salak and Setiawangsa if Anwar and Azmin had listened to grassroots views.

These same sources attribute the loss of Machang, Tanah Merah and Merbok to poor service by the PKR MPs elected in 2008.

Interestingly, PKR secretary-general Saifudin Nasution Ismail, whose service as an MP did not impress many, was shifted out of Machang to the supposedly safe seat of Kulim Bandar Baru. He still lost.

Grassroots leaders and their followers campaigned half-heartedly for the parachute candidates at the 10 constituencies mentioned above.

"It was a sort of silent protest," said an insider.

"Anyway, it would have been difficult to campaign wholeheartedly for them because they had little understanding of the local issues. They could not have plotted a proper strategy, given the short time they had between the confirmation of their candidacy and polling day."




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