| COMMENT Political cyber wars loom. The 'evil Empire' has decided to strike back. It has taken enough flak and now it's planning to gather its cyber-troopers in greater number to counter the 'Rebel Alliance'.|
The coalition forces of the Empire – Umno and MCA - have announced plans to seriously wage the propaganda wars against the Pakatan Rakyat alliance in cyberspace.
The two Barisan Nasional coalition parties have been laggards in the struggle to win the people's hearts and minds on the Internet, relying mainly on their mainstream media to do the talking. But many people are not buying what they are publishing. They are going online to get the alternative news and views.
Recent polls have indicated that about 60 percent of Malaysians do not trust what they read in the mainstream media which are mainly controlled by Umno and MCA. A survey has revealed that one in five Malaysians or 20 percent have access to online news portals where "freedom of expression" has become the norm.
Universiti Putra Malaysia communication lecturer Ishak Abdul Hamid told Bernama the Opposition had capitalised on the new media as a campaigning tool effectively since 1999 although BN had the mainstream media at its disposal.
It appears now that it's not enough to stay in the mainstream. The Empire has realised it has to widen its thrusts by opening up a wider propaganda front - and cyberspace is where the action will be.
According to Umno secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, as reported by Bernama, the last five years have seen various accusations being hurled at the party to the point that Umno was seen as having no morals.
Tengku Adnan reportedly said: "Umno is depicted as a party that is only fit to be stepped on...I am saddened by this situation. . .We are not asking much...just to be recognised for what the party has done all this while, the good it has done for the people."
If anything, some observers believe Umno is feeling the heat and need to level the playing field online. Hence, Umno is now seeking out its "cyber friends" to come forward and help to boost its image which has come under ever increasing attacks from the other side.
One way that Umno could gather its cyber forces is through the social networking site Facebook where it has more than 4,500 friends and 3,800 fans – which by cyber standard is not much to shout about. Some A-list bloggers have more Facebook friends and fans than Umno.
Meanwhile, Umno Youth, Puteri Umno and some pro-Umno activists are reportedly joining forces to take the battle to cyberspace and counter the "slander and lies" posted there by the Opposition.
In tandem with the Umno cyber plan, MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek reportedly has also suggested plans to hire a number of anonymous cyber-troopers from its Johor division to conduct this joint offensive against the PR.
An online news portal reported Chua on Sunday as saying “We admit that we are weak in this area compared to them. They have been successful in confusing the rakyat as lies have become the truth and vice-versa.”
How would the Pakatan Rakyat react to the gathering political storm in cyberspace?
The MCA bid to engage anonymous cyber-troopers was brushed off by PKR chief strategist Tian Chua who told Malaysia Chronicle: "In fact, we are surprised by MCA, doesn’t it have the confidence to criticize us in the open. It should survey the Chinese community who will tell them it is better to spend time on educating Umno rather than attacking PKR and Pakatan.”
As reported on Malaysia Chronicle, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said: “We have no resources compared to Umno and we can only depend on the cyber citizens who love freedom, truth and justice to fight the battle with us."
Pundits have recognized that the Internet has become an important platform for political communication and anyone who fails to acknowledge the role of the New Media will be "left dead in the water."
Surveys have revealed that about 1.8 million new voters are expected to join the electoral roll in the next general election. There are about 16 million Internet users in Malaysia against 10.9 million voters in the 12th general election in 2008.
It is pertinent to note that the exponential growth of the Internet especially with the younger generation coming online has not been lost on the Opposition to use it as their new campaign platform. And they have been relatively more successful than the BN. Recent comments by BN party leaders are indicative that they are acknowledging the "wake up" call.
Considering that the Opposition had a headstart in their cyberspace campaigns with substantial support from the Internet community, it will be interesting to see how the Empire strikes back in the coming days.
In Star Wars, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker of the Rebel Alliance: "The Force will be with you. Always". In these Cyber Wars, people will watch with bated breath to see which side the Force will bestow its favour.