Two leading cyber activists from Malaysia have attributed the importance of opposition unity, protests and conventional campaigning in bringing about what they called the political tsunami that swept through their country in the recently held general elections there.
Addressing a gathering of more than 50 eager Singaporean bloggers and activists on Thursday (10 Apr) evening, the editor-in-chief of Malaysiakini (Malaysia Now), Mr Steven Gan said: “We saw the coming together of diverse political parties such as the PAS with its Islamic ideology and the DAP, perceived to be Chinese-based party. The man who brought about this unity to fight the 14-member ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia who is now the de facto leader of the multi-ethnic Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Mr Gan said: “The PKR played a major role in pushing for the abolition of the New Economic Policy (NEP) that was meant to favor the Malays. But Anwar was able to convince the Malays that NEP was UMNO Putra – a policy that benefited only the members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).”
The other Malaysian speaker who stressed the role of opposition unity was Mr Nathaniel Tan, Internet Strategist for the PKR.
Mr Tan recalled the mass protest rally dubbed Bersih (Clean) involving all the major opposition parties, civil society and non-governmental organizations in the Malaysian capital last year.
The Bersih movement bought together the entire stakeholders for the need to have a free and fair election. “How can you possibly argue against cleaner electoral process?” the Internet strategist quipped.
On his party’s election strategy, he said: “Our political message has to be quite simple. It has to be short and easy to understand. You have to couch it in such a way for 90 per cent of it was repetition.”
Mr Tan also had some comments on the election system in Singapore. He noted that it was strange how more than 30 per cent of voters had voted for the opposition but it has only two seats out of the 84 in parliament.
He is also puzzled over the fact that the GRC system, supposed to promote minority representation has resulted in fewer minorities in parliament.
There was also a lively discussion following the presentations by the speakers. Replying to a comment from a Singaporean blogger who had said things in Singapore are changing gradually, the PKR leader pointed out: “History has generally shown that change happens quickly, not over time, nor incrementally.”
Mr Tan then noted: “Everything in Singapore is planned for the next 50 years and that is very scary.”
Both the speakers stressed that the election campaign did not only rely on the Internet but also on SMS, DVDs and the conventional posters and stickers to draw the voters to the opposition camp.
Replying to questions from the floor, Mr Gan and Mr Tan stressed that in Malaysia they are seeing something different. There were two major lessons to be learned from the recent elections in which the Internet played a small, but significant role.
“There is cross ethnic voting. The swing towards the opposition was across the board, transcending the traditional ethnic divide. That was interesting,” both stressed.
They also said the other interesting development was that the ruling BN can suffer major electoral losses but that did not spark violence on streets as it had happen in 13 May 1969.
The two-hour dialogue was held at an art gallery at Rowell Road. It was moderated by Mr Alex Au, editor of yawningbread.org.