CNET : Internet : Guidebook


By Julian Matthews
December 10, 1999

Malaysia had its first elections ever in which there was finally a medium beyond government control--the Internet. But did the Net play any part in helping people decide who to vote for?

When the results of Malaysia's 10th general elections were coming in on the night of November 29, one stunning outcome that appeared on the Internet even before results were announced by the mainstream media was the defeat of opposition leader Lim Kit Siang in Penang.

It was ironic that the Internet was to be bearer of news sounding the death knell for the parliamentary career of the long-time Democratic Action Party stalwart. Lim is an ardent advocate of the medium and frequent poster to his party's Web site and various newsgroups.

The DAP called its campaign an "e-campaign" and urged supporters to download party material from its Web site, photocopy and circulate them to friends and neighbors, and even solicited for desperately needed funding online--believed to be a first for any political party in Malaysia.

But all the party's cyber-campaigning seemed to have come to nought on polling day. Lim lost both his parliamentary and state seats and, along with party chairman Chen Man Hin and deputy chairman Karpal Singh, found himself without a mandate or platform to voice dissent.

DAP's loss paved the way for Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), another early Internet adopter, to emerge as the dominant opposition party when it won 27 seats in parliament, retaining the northeastern state of Kelantan as well as capturing neighboring Terengganu.

"Technology is seen as a panacea for a weak or indifferent organization. That came through starkly in this general election," said veteran journalist and political observer MGG Pillai. "The opposition parties were into information technology in a big way, but the only party to use it well was PAS. It is not enough to be seen to be IT savvy. You must use it as part of your overall plan," said Pillai who runs popular discussion list Sang Kancil.

Indeed, the elections was Malaysia's first in which the Internet, computers and technology made an impact on the campaign trail.

The Election Commission sold CD-ROMs of the list of voters instead of hard copies, and offered a Web-based checking service. Various political parties on both sides offered their manifestos, candidate lists and news updates on their Web sites.

One candidate on a Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) ticket handed out about 3,000 VCDs of himself, interspersed with scenes of how he had improved his constituency. The novel idea seemed to have worked for incumbent assemblyman Freddie Long Hoo Hin who retained his Stulang state seat in Johore, beating a DAP candidate.

The online editions of newspapers Utusan Malaysia and The Star devoted whole sections for the elections with scorecards and special news coverage, while alternative media Web sites and various discussion lists filled with a flurry of postings.

The Star Online, one the largest Malaysian online publications, claimed one million pageviews on the day after the elections when it posted the most updated official election results. Compared to its usual monthly pageview count of about 10 million, the spike was telling.

The fact that the newpaper's editors decided to upload some stories prior to the next day's print edition, and even posted an audio excerpt of National Front chairman Dr Mahathir Mohamad's victory speech, suggested a willingness to explore the real-time and multimedia value of the medium.


Julian Matthews is the Malaysian correspondent for CNET Malaysia. Email us your comments.


A cyber campaign

Online media watch

Web of promises
 Election Resources

The Star elections site
The Star

Election Commission
Election Commission Singapore

The great divide: Malay government faces a Malay opposition

Malaysia's snap election: special report

Malaysia politics
Official Web site
Official homepage


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