Armed for cyberwar, Umno Youth wants ammo from Putrajaya
The Malaysian Insider
By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — In mid-2009, Umno Youth held a course in online media for its grassroots leaders in Kuantan. The names of a few prominent bloggers drew blank stares.
"Only 10 per cent (of those present) were familiar with those names," the youth wing's new media chief, Tun Faisal Ismail Aziz, told The Malaysian Insider. "Some didn't even have email."
The media unit that Tun Faisal heads, formed after accepting that "80 to 90 per cent" of those online were anti-Barisan Nasional (BN) in the landmark Election 2008, now claims that despite having to catch up to Pakatan Rakyat (PR) in the "cyberwar" for the hearts and minds of young and urban voters, it is now ready for a general election expected within the year.
However, Tun Faisal, a member of the Umno Youth executive committee, believes that despite having guns primed, the unit needs the government to provide it with bullets.
"Most young and urban voters perceive the mainstream media as pro-government, so they are automatically prejudiced against it," said Faisal. "So we have to bring the debate online.
"But the problem is getting info from the government to counter the lies from the opposition. How can we fight claims from them and journalists when we don't have more info than them?" he said.
BN had its nose bloodied at the 12th General Election in urban centres such as the Klang Valley and Penang, ceding its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament as the opposition took a record 82 seats and, at the same time, five state governments.
But the Manek Urai by-election in Kelantan, where BN surprisingly came within 65 votes of wresting the state seat, is considered a turning point for Umno Youth in the online battle.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin had said that BN gained in all young voter streams, signalling a shift in young voters that was said to have backed PR heavily in 2008.
"The opposition started in 1999 after Reformasi," Tun Faisal said. "We only started in 2009. It's like putting university students against primary schoolkids.
"But if you look at the results since Manek Urai, you can see that BN has definitely caught up especially with young voters."
BN has since reversed a losing streak in by-elections, and even though PR was confident of making extensive gains in the recent Sarawak state election, BN retained its two-thirds majority in the assembly.
Tun Faisal says that one of the main factors is that his new media unit was given the mandate to strategise and coordinate online communications during these local polls.
"After 13 by-elections and one state election, I think we are ready to lead BN online in the next general election. But the leadership needs to have faith in us," he said.
He revealed that in 2004, he led an Umno Youth cybertroopers unit into federal polls, at which BN claimed over 90 per cent of Parliament. But the ruling coalition's best showing ever was followed by its worst in 2008.
"The difference was in 2004, we had a direct link to the prime minister's department," Tun Faisal said.
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