Rate this
4.3 (18 votes)
“Social media and politics in Malaysia election”
4.33333333333 out of 5 based on 18 user ratings

“Social media and politics in Malaysia election”

Malaysia’s recent election was historic, writes Debra Grace Lim Jia-En, 19, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Malaysia, who looks at the positive role social media played in engaging voters in the civic exercise.

For those born after 1995, it might seem as though social media platforms have been around forever. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Reddit, Pinterest or any of the countless other sites, they have established themselves as an inherent necessity. These applications are where we receive news and information, communicate with others and keep ourselves entertained on a daily basis.

Social media is proving to be a critical channel through which we develop a perception of the wider world and its concerns. Digital natives are no longer the exception, but are becoming the norm, making the internet a key asset in spreading information, raising funds, exchanging views and mobilising the masses to act. It is this prevalence of such technology that may fuel more social revolutions to come — particularly in the arena of politics and democracy.

This was proven recently in Malaysia, where the opposition party, Pakatan Harapan (or Alliance of Hope) pulled off a shocking victory in the 14th General Elections, setting in motion the first-ever transfer of power in the country’s 60 year history.

Malaysia is no stranger to social media and the internet. With a smartphone penetration of roughly 76 per cent and official data showing that 97 per cent of social media users are active on Facebook, Malaysia is counted amongst the most digitally connected countries in the world. According to Malaysia’s Election Commission, 41 per cent of registered voters for this year’s election were between the ages of 21 to 39, placing this demographic perfectly within the characterisation of digital natives. They get their news primarily through social media, and in this election, social media clearly shaped their views of prospective parliamentarians and assemblymen.

From the outset, it was clear that much of the political campaigning was focused on this internet savvy demographic. Party manifestos were first released online to thousands of downloads. Then-Prime Minister Najib Razak had amassed 3.4 million followers on his Facebook page, while his opponent Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had around 2.6 million followers on his own page. Their posts attracted thousands of comments and shares every day leading up to the elections. Facebook and YouTube live streams of political rallies all over Malaysia drew tens of thousands of views from voters on both sides.

This election also featured some of the more grim aspects of cyber campaigning, including fake news, bots and digitally altered photographs of political leaders. On Twitter, hashtags urging voters to abstain from voting — #UndiRosak (or ‘spoil the vote’) — abounded.

However, there were also posts encouraging people to let their voices be heard, as shown by the trending #PulangMengundi, which means ‘go home to vote’ in Malay. Digital advertisements on news sites, YouTube and Facebook banners permeated the screens of Malaysian devices, all meant to stir the emotions and biases of the electorate.

Nonetheless, these were also the very platforms through which netizens aired their grief about an autocratic government and crippling increases in living expenses.

On Twitter especially, fierce discussions erupted regarding what was the best way forward for the country, economically and socially. While not always the most civil of exchanges, social media clearly played a critical role in providing a forum for voters to express their views as well as to consider opposing opinions. This, arguably, made political engagement far more accessible to all regardless of geographical location. It allowed individuals to increase their knowledge of the socio-economic issues at stake, aiding the formation of a more aware and critical voter base than ever before in Malaysia.

In addition, social media also served as a platform for Malaysians to come together in solidarity with each other. When postal votes arrived late for Malaysians living overseas, many thought they would not be able to participate in the election. Social media, however, brought individuals together; forming extended chains of people who wanted to vote submitting their ballot packages to Malaysians flying back to the country to vote. A Facebook group called ‘GE14: Postal Voters Discussion’ was instrumental in pulling off such a logistical feat. Dubbed as the ‘Amazing Race’ online, Malaysians travelling from London, Melbourne, Adelaide, San Francisco, Toronto and elsewhere brought back the sealed ballots of their fellow citizens. These ballots were distributed to runners who travelled to polling stations across the country — all in one concerted effort to promote democracy.

These were only a few of many instances in which social media helped to shape the results of the Malaysian elections, whether by informing citizens or spreading the message of hopeful patriotism. Such an outcome can be said to signify a precursor for future elections in the Southeast Asian region, and be seen as an alternative and useful means of perpetuating democracy in neighbouring countries. As Malaysia continues on its path in this new chapter of governance, let us hope that its citizens will continue to use this boon of interconnectedness and technology to hold their leaders accountable to the people they were elected to serve.

Photo credit: Peter Ras Social Media via photopin (license)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

About me: Hi! My name’s Debra and I’m from Malaysia. I aspire to be a lawyer one day, and I have a special interest in public policy and its implementation, social justice and international trade.

Currently, I’m a Lower Sixth student at Kolej Tuanku Jaa’far, studying for my A levels. When I’m not reading, writing or volunteering, I also enjoy the performing arts, playing music, Model United Nations conferences and travelling.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments