Saturday, May 2, 2009


JOHAN JAAFFAR: To engage the young, it pays to learn their language

ONE lesson the ruling coalition must learn from last year: it must engage the young. For far too long, we have been ignoring them. They make assumptions. They theorise. In short, the Barisan Nasional has largely marginalised a critical element of the populace -- the assertive, critical and restless young.
Part of the problem is that we believe they are like us, their wants are that of ours. Their aspirations are the same as ours. We believe what is good for us is good for them, too. In fact, we take a condescending attitude towards them. We take them for granted.How wrong we can be. The ruling coalition saw the changes even in the 1999 general election. The young were against BN for obvious reasons. Many of us thought they would come back to us when the dust settled. Then came the 2004 general election. We won big. We lost our perspective. In 2008, the people taught us a lesson -- they deprived BN of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Five states fell to the opposition.Last year's election was a wake-up call to BN and Umno in particular. The overall view is that the young have abandoned the coalition. They were the ones who worked tirelessly to ensure BN candidates lost spectacularly. Almost a million new and first-time voters exercised their rights last year. In 2013, there will be a million more new voters. Will they vote for BN? Good question. But no one really has the answer.Where have we gone wrong? There are far too many questions left unanswered. It is increasingly difficult to separate the truth from presumption, reality from myth. The answers, the way I look at it, lie with the young ones themselves. While it is true the young are by nature anti-establishment, it is presumptuous to say that all of them are. Yes, it is true the radicals of yesterday are the conservatives of today. But even radicals are reachable.
What is important is that values are changing rapidly. Some of us have failed miserably in understanding the changing dynamics in society. We are looking at ourselves to remind us of the young. We are forcing our values on to them. We believed papa and mama know best. Similarly we believe it is incumbent on the young to listen to us. They are ironically the product of the policies set by the ruling party. Yet, we lost possession of them while others claim ownership. Some of us are clueless as to what is going on. We blame them for being recalcitrant and ungrateful.We can't even speak their language, not to mention understand their hopes and aspirations. We can't even understand the medium they are engaging themselves in. The Internet. The world of the blogs. Blogosphere. Some would argue blogging is an integral element of the maturing of Malaysian democracy. The young are using the blogosphere for reasons more than just social interactions. It is a formidable weapon for articulation. The Internet has given a new democratic space for the young.Suddenly, we are awakened by the reality that the young are a force to be reckoned with. We are not just talking about the batik-wearing and kompang-playing youth. We are talking about the Starbucks Generation, Generation X, Y, whatever. They are no longer apolitical. Political awareness is the name of the new game.Not too long ago, the MCA set up a panel to recruit young professionals into the party. The response was understandably poor. It realised back then that at least 70 per cent of its 1.02 million members were 40 and above. The party saw another worrying trend. The members' education level was generally "at the most, secondary level". The MCA launched a massive nationwide exercise to target professionals aged between 18 and 35. In doing so, it found out why the professionals were not joining the party.In the survey, they cited 12 reasons why they shied away from the MCA. Top of the list was a hectic lifestyle. The second reason was "priority on career development". They also cited "complacency resulting from overall political stability". That survey was before last year's general election. Things have changed drastically since then. We now know hectic lifestyle is not relevant anymore. Many became politically inclined. True, not many of them join politics, but they understand the power of their votes.Umno and other BN component parties must embark on a nation-wide exercise to ask serious questions pertaining to the reasons the young are abandoning them. No more clever guesses. A survey will help. The MCA has not done much to address the issues raised by the young in the survey. But at least it knows where the young among the Chinese stand.We must encourage healthy debate among our young. We must allow discourse to flourish. We have to give them the democratic space. But freedom comes with responsibility. They have to understand that. Democracy without discipline will lead to chaos and anarchy.Let's begin by engaging the young in 1Malaysia. The concept propagated by the prime minister has attracted a lot of attention, especially among the young. The parameters of 1Malaysia have been outlined. The government must stop there. The concept must have a life of its own. The concept must evolve. It is the people that ought to fill in the blanks. It has to be the people's movement, not the government's. Let the young debate the notion furiously and intelligently. Let them formulate what they believe is 1Malaysia. Let them take ownership of the idea.The blogosphere is abuzz with discussions on 1Malaysia. Some are vicious in their condemnation. Others believe the idea is long overdue. Let the debate continue.We have to be tolerant to be taken seriously. The young are watching.

ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR : Will the 'fourth floor boys' strike again?

ARE problems brewing between Pas' two most influential eminences, president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat?
Or is it merely a perceived conflict over secret talks for some sort of merger or unity government with Umno?Close aides of the two leaders have rubbished any power struggle, admitting only that there were differing opinions on some issues.They say the two leaders are not oblivious of potentially damaging developments within the party, attributing most of them to excitement in the run-up to party elections early next month.Whatever the reasons behind the re-ignited war between their supporters, Hadi and Nik Aziz will in no way allow the public spat to drag on. Both are due back in the country this weekend -- Hadi after attending an engagement in Indonesia and Nik Aziz after performing umrah in Saudi Arabia -- and are expected to put an end to the polemic.
If what has been said in the media and cyberspace is taken at face value, Pas appears to be facing a major split with two camps fighting for ascendency at the coming muktamar -- the ulama faction that backs Hadi and the pro-Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim "Erdogan" group, named after Anwar's purportedly close ties with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.The factionalism surfaced when delegates took each other on in heated debates over the Pas-Umno unity talks at last year's muktamar.Though the muktamar resolved that Pas should remain committed to Pakatan Rakyat, ripples continued to surface, the latest being a blog posting by Nik Aziz's son Nik Abduh, in which he blamed his father's personal assistants for the friction with Hadi over the unity government the latter proposed in March.Hadi has since retracted the proposal because of the change of leadership in Umno.Nik Abduh, a 39-year-old graduate of Cairo's Al Azhar University, is a national Pas Youth executive councillor and Kelantan Pas Youth deputy chief.He accused the assistants of distorting the unity proposal for political mileage, resulting in his father's rejection of the idea.Nik Abduh said it was evident his father had changed his mind about the unity government after he stopped making statements against it after meeting Hadi recently.Nik Aziz had earlier dismissed Hadi's proposal and repeatedly expressed his displeasure, at one point ticking off the president with a reminder that as mursyidul am and head of the Majlis Syura Ulama, he and not Hadi was "captain of the ship".Questions have been raised as to who Nik Aziz's "fourth floor boys" are, those Nik Abduh accused of ill advice for their own gain. No names were mentioned in his blog entry but the accused certainly know who they are.A unity government is not unfamiliar to Pas, which joined Barisan Nasional in 1973.The issue no doubt will dominate debate at the coming muktamar.Will it also influence the election of the new Pas line-up?

General:: Poster politicians are an eyesore

First published in The New Straits Times on 8th April 2009.
ONE of the things I would like to suggest to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to discourage, if not prohibit altogether, is politicians putting up billboards, posters and banners of themselves with the prime minister.
I must say that -- although having no empirical or scientific evidence to conclude as such -- the less of these displays that we have, the better it would be for the government.How did this sudden billboard mania come about, I cannot really put my finger on, but I am certain of their effect on me -- I dislike them for their vacuity, if not much more than the shallowness that they presume the public has that they can be easily impressed and affected by such displays.In the business of public one-upmanship, many politicians have been putting up such displays with themselves pictured alongside the prime minister, albeit in smaller size. As if perception could be massaged visually, the displays are meant to imply that they, standing in the shadow of the prime minister, are powerful, too.Some are trying to ride on the popularity, prestige and power of the prime minister. Their message seems to be: "Look at me. I am the prime minister's man (or woman). You better believe that I am powerful!"Now that Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is no longer prime minister, there must be thousands of such billboards and posters of him and politicians that need removing if only to make sure that our public displays are kept abreast with our political developments.This is additional work that the local councils need not have to be saddled with.This practice in the past few years caused someone to remark to me that it was akin to "governing via billboards". These politicians hope that their larger-than-life-in-living-colour mugs could make us give them more love.Incidentally, this love affair with giant billboards is not exclusive to politicians of the ruling party; opposition politicians, though on a lesser scale, are not immune either. Be they cabinet members or menteris besar, they should not be putting up pictures of themselves with the prime minister on billboards or posters, or in newspaper advertisements. It is just not right, in my opinion.It also bothers me too that our politicians are still using 1950s-style branding exercises to win our hearts and minds. It is very disconcerting, these pictures looking down at you at busy junctions and roundabouts. You cannot really take your eyes off them since many are placed in strategic locales for maximum exposure.These billboards and posters always remind me of the early days of the former communist Soviet Union where Lenin, or worse, Stalin, were looking down at their comrades, telling them to be productive or off to the Gulag they go!I know the theory of subliminal suggestion, that we could somehow have images and ideas imprinted on our subconscious without us realising, and that we could be led to certain action or opinion based on ideas transmitted by ingenious mind-bending tools, of which apparently the unsophisticated billboard is one.But, I believe, the reality is far from that. There are likely to be more negatives than positives: if only these politicians knew what we mutter under our breaths every time we see them! Worse if there is a billboard of someone who is disliked. We would be reminded of him daily, and our dislike could turn to disdain, or worse, hatred. The public displays could ironically be an effective reminder of inefficiency, inaptitude or corruption.What if the prime minister were to be on a billboard together with a person of dubious character? Could not the prime minister suffer from guilt by association? What if there were to be a cabinet reshuffle, or change in states' leadership? Old billboards down, and new ones up? These public displays of self-aggrandisation are not only a waste of money, but they are also an insult to our intelligence. I must also add they disrupt public peace and tranquillity with five-metre-wide faces staring at you at road junctions.I propose that the prime minister's office throw out such proposals, except for the rare occasions when justifiable. The potential damage and embarrassment would be far greater to the prime minister than to the guy preening by his side.It is still early in Najib's career as prime minister that some of these politicians are probably still without his latest picture. Now is the good time to nip this "governing by billboard" in the bud.

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