Net’s influence limited in this election

Posted on November 26, 1999 
Filed Under CNET, Julian

By Julian Matthews

KUALA LUMPUR–The Net is a growing influence in Malaysia but may not affect voters’ decisions this time around, says veteran political observer and journalist MGG Pillai.

“I do not think cyber campaigning would count for much or change voting patterns. More than half the voters would have made up their minds already. The floating voters is large, but I fancy they would not have access to a computer, ” said Pillai who runs the popular discussion list Sang Kancil.

Pillai qualifies, however, that the Net has become a potent provider of alternative, and increasingly believable, source of news for many ever since Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking from government.

“It strengthens the anti-establishment viewpoint and is an adjunct to the political process, as the fax was in 1989 during the Tiananmen incident in China,” he said.

Pillai said the opposition has taken to the Net “like ducks to water” and operate in “guerilla fashion” because they have no access to mainstream media, whereas the National Front’s approach has been “laidback”.

“The National Front is confident it has the ground sewn up, so such matters as a Web presence is irrelevant. I think key officials do not know what the Internet is all about,” he said.

Pillai said Sang Kancil was set up in 1996, and most postings have been critical of the government. However, these are interspersed with pro-government flame-throwers who prefer to post anonymously.

Pillai said the list has 1,900 subscribers and includes the Prime Minister, several cabinet ministers, one state chief minister (Note: all positions are prior to dissolution of parliament), diplomats, senior government officials, military officers and numerous private citizens.

The list has seen a surge of postings since the elections were announced and sometimes attracts about 200 items daily from an average of about 120.

“The maturity of postings is evident, even if the posters are anonymous. There is the occasional debate on how reliable their views are, but I find them strengthening the quality of the debate. Extremist viewpoints are quickly shut out,” he said.

Pillai said discussion lists are here to stay and play an important role in forging public opinion but they require constant watch. “I spend four to five hours daily in writing and managing the lists, but am spared aggravation because I am an insomniac. One also needs to be a bit crazy to manage a list like this!”

Published in CNET Asia, Nov 26, 1999

Related links:
‘Phantom’ voters show up on Internet electoral roll, Nov 26, 1999.
Malaysian cyber election nixed, Nov 26, 1999.
Doctored photo on Net stirs election controversy, Nov 26, 1999.
Malaysian election campaigning gets tech boost, Nov 26, 1999.
Malaysian elections: On the cyber-campaign trail, Dec 10, 1999.

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