CDs Become Weapon in Political Armoury

  • by Baradan Kuppusamy (kuala lumpur)
  • Inter Press Service

'We have always known only one government, the Barisan Nasional (National Front). My CD of songs is an attempt to convince voters to see the Pakatan Rakyat as an alternative...give them a chance to rule,' he said.

'It is also an effective way to break the stranglehold the government has over mainstream media,' he told IPS. 'The CD is cheap, enjoyable and an effective form of communication.'

As Malaysia prepares for a fiercely competitive election, the opposition, which is largely barred from mainstream media, is resorting to alternative methods to reach voters, from rallies to social media campaigns to the dissemination of hundreds of thousands of CDs that could influence wide swathes of the urban and rural populations.

Besides music, the CDs also contain rarely heard political speeches by leaders like Anwar Ibrahim, head of the People’s Alliance, who is daily lambasted in the mainstream media. His recent speech, promising free education up to tertiary levels in the event of a Pakatan Rakyat victory at the upcoming polls, was ignored by most major media until a truncated version of it surfaced several weeks later as the subject of government ridicule.

Targeting the youth

Pakatan Rakyat is offering voters the first viable political alternative in over 50 years. Many voters are intrigued by the possibility of a change in government, a dream they had hitherto written off as impossible.

The 2008 general election, in which the People’s Alliance came close to unseating the 13-party National Front, winning five states and denying the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority in parliament, was the best showing by the opposition since independence in 1957.

Five years later, an intense 'return match' is on the cards, in the words of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, that will decide which coalition is left standing.

'It is a life or death struggle for us (the National Front),' he told national television on Monday.

In addition to producing CDs, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a member of the Pakatan Rakyat, has also posted video clips on YouTube with one overriding message — ‘ubah’, or ‘complete change’, which is the party’s theme song and central message for the general election.

The Malay and Mandarin CDs are targeted at young urban voters who tend to be anti-establishment in their political leanings.

'The songs in the CD bring a message of hope for a better tomorrow under a Pakatan Rakyat government,' DAP socialist youth chief, Anthony Loke, told IPS. 'We are projecting a young image for our party to target the young voters.'

Pakatan Rakyat also utilises its own bi-monthly newsletter, ‘Harakah’, to carry it's message to the younger generation.

Universiti Sains Malaysia academic Sivamurugan Pandian believes that 40 percent of the country’s 12.9 million registered voters are aged between 21 and 39 years.

'All political parties are actively wooing them. They (could) decide the outcome of the general election contest,' he told IPS, adding that the most tech savvy coalition will have an edge.

'They cross over questions of race, religion and ethnicity. They are the true ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ or Malaysians as opposed to native Malays, Chinese or Indians,' he said 'The future is in their hands.'

Both the opposition and the ruling coalition have deployed armies of ‘cyber troops’ against one another to post songs and political messages on YouTube and Facebook, turning the social media landscape into a veritable battleground.

Wooing voters with song

Kunasekaran, the mastermind of the revolutionary music, also said that songs are a powerful way to win the hearts and minds of Tamil working class voters.

Tamils in Malaysia are the descendents of indentured labourers brought by British colonials at the turn of the 19th century to clear jungles and plant and tend to rubber trees. The community now numbers about two million, a population that can make or break either of the political coalitions in about 50 of the 222 parliamentary constituencies in the country.

Both Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Ibrahim have been assiduously courting the community for months.

'In India songs are used to convince Tamil voters. Here in Malaysia, I try to emulate the Indian politicians,' Kunasekaran said, referring to the late M. G. Ramachandran, chief minister of Tamil Nadu state who made movies and Tamil songs to influence voters.

The government too has entered the battle for hearts and minds, producing its own CDs and hiring young and popular artistes to sing about its theme ‘continuity and progress’.

'Trust the National Front, we have delivered for 50 years,' the government CDs proclaim.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service