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A government without walls

Ironically, the amazing success of the Internet as an alternative voice may have been prompted by misgivings on the coverage by mainstream media which adopted a blatantly pro-government stance and missed key elements in the entire episode as this was unfolding.

Malaysians decided they had had enough. This was not journalism. People needed to look elsewhere.

However, today, nearly a year later, the early euphoria has faded somewhat. Many of the 50 pro-reform sites show signs of neglect, with few being updated on a regular basis.

The Webmaster of Anwar On-line, which has lain dormant for a few months, said by way of an excuse that the Reformasi Web sites had already performed their primary function. "People were convinced a long time ago--the disgust with the system is already deep," he said.

Another Webmaster believed that the awareness stage was long past and people now just wanted to act, especially in the light of coming polls.

Malaysia must hold an election by next June but the government is widely expected to call a snap poll in the next few months as the economy recovers from recession. "The lines had already been drawn and people have firmly decided which side of it they are on. They are now just waiting to show it--in the elections," he said.

If anything, the Anwar incident was instrumental in stirring users into "discovering" various political Web sites, and inspiring site owners to keep them updated with new content.

Where the majority of Web sites previously were blatantly accusatory and insulting towards government leaders, the present active crop shows signs of a maturing independent and alternative media.

Free Malaysia, Saksi, The Malaysian and Aliran are examples of this emerging trend.

Mailing lists such as Berita Malaysia and Bungaraya have also garnered a loyal following.

Even the various opposition political parties now seem keenly aware of leveraging on the Net and keeping their Web sites updated. Democratic Action Party has a trilingual site, Parti Islam SeMalaysia has redesigned its site, while the homepage for Parti Keadilan Nasional, a new party led by Anwar's wife, is in constant flux.


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