Umno supreme council hopeful Lokman Noor Adam believes his party can neutralise Pakatan Harapan.
Yesterday, he told The Malaysian Insight that Umno is going to “borrow from the Pakatan Harapan playbook” and take full advantage of social media to stay relevant. Lokman was speaking as a member of Umno’s “strategic communications unit” which consists of several party stalwarts such as interim president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Umno will be organising its party polls on June 30. It is the first in almost three years after the party obtained extensions on its election deadline. Some 150,000 delegates are expected to vote and determine a leadership that will represent the party after its defeat to Pakatan in the May 9 general election.
Lokman is among the 120 names vying for a spot on the Umno supreme council, the party’s top decision-making body which has 25 elected members.
“We are going to say the right things and use the mechanism they (Pakatan) used to topple us,” Lokman told The Malaysian insight. “We are going to do the same thing PH did, but in a totally different manner. No more slander and no more saying things without facts and figures.”
Lokman claimed he knew how Pakatan worked as he was a member of PKR, a component party of the coalition.
“If we push them hard enough, they won’t even stand for a year. My target is to make sure they don’t stand for more than a year. I don’t plan to fight them for five years,” he said. “We are going to be a very strong opposition.”
Parliament will convene on July 16 and Umno’s capabilities as part of the federal opposition bloc will be tried and tested.
As Lokman is confident Umno will be “a strong opposition”, six analysts were asked to weigh in with one question: how effective can Umno be as a check and balance on social media given its past reputation, especially among the Malays?
Their responses, lightly edited for clarity, are below.
Zaharom Nain, media and cultural studies professor, University of Nottingham Malaysia
First, the context. After GE14 and the ongoing revelations regarding its former head, Najib, Umno is in disarray as a party. It is a party where, to borrow from Antonio Gramsci, “the old is dying and the young cannot be born”.
It is a party that is torn between the need to embrace multiculturalism and the dominance of racial, racist even, thinking.
As far as social media is concerned, to be honest, Umno social media – a polite term for its cybertroopers – have never been renowned for being agents of “check and balance”.
Their job was to discredit the then opposition, to rake as much muck as possible. It was all about propaganda. And very crude propaganda, targeted at, surely, a mythical, indeed false, ignorant and easily-led rural Malay population.
That is the context. Given such context, and given that social media is fast expanding and is likely to be given a boost – in terms of the internet being made more open and accompanied by media literacy programmes by the present, new, regime – it is highly unlikely Umno can serve any purpose as a check and balance on social media.
It would require a reverse in values, priorities and reason-for-being. And as long as its social media “programme”, for want of a better word, is headed and driven by creatures with assumptions of segregation and “ketuanan Melayu”, no way will Umno play any important, progressive role on social media, certain not the role of check and balance.
Mohamad Hisomuddin Bakar, director, Ilham Centre
Lokman’s statement resembles Umno’s old way of thinking and smacks of arrogance. It is clear in GE14, that despite the big budgets and full-on use of social media instruments, Umno still failed to understand voter psychology. It is this arrogant mindset of Umno caused its media outreach to be ineffective.
Also if the party keeps doing things like this, it won’t be a good opposition. As these are the early stages, the party should first study why Malaysians rejected them and the Barisan Nasional coalition. Only after that, arrange a strategy.
Lokman thinks he can just copy Pakatan but he fails to understand the nuances. The facts and figures are not on his side. In fact, even when its politicians were in government, Umno didn’t use the facts and figures to its advantage.
Ross Tapsell, director, Malaysia Institute, Australian National University
Umno already made significant attempts to involve themselves in the social media landscape in GE14, including a “strategic communications unit” and in many ways were successful in spreading their own information on social media and WhatsApp.
The problem wasn't that Umno didn't have the online infrastructure. Rather, it was that the message they were delivering was not one which resonated with voters, nor were the people used (such as Najib) were people who resonated with voters.
Madeline Berma, economic analyst, independent
Umno's move towards using social media is more of a response to its poor performance in GE14. One of the factors for this dismal performance was its failure to harness the power of social media to win elections.
While efforts have been made to use the social media for politics among Umno members, they still relied on traditional social networks in the last election. So, the move to use the social media will have different effects.
First, it will attract the young, educated, urban elite women to Umno. Second, the focus and use of social media in Umno's political strategies will see the diminished role of women in political communications, especially in rural areas.
Third, Umno may not be effective to function as a check- and- balance because of its tarnished image and inability to use the social media as “trust filters”.
Umno, including Barisan, need to address the problem of a trust deficit among Malaysians in general, and netizens in particular. To address this problem requires a holistic approach that goes beyond the social media.
Tony Paridi Bagang, senior lecturer, Universiti Teknologi Mara Sabah
The use of social media nowadays has become the rule of the game in Malaysian politics. On one hand, Umno might be able to maintain the existing support of the party. But, on other hand, it is tough for Umno to convince and regain the trust of its former supporters who have now diverted to PH.
From Sabah's perspective, taking into consideration the current political scenario, the sentiment of “Ubah” and “asal bukan Umno” is very strong among Sabahans.
Using social media to disseminate information that is based on facts and figures is indeed the best approach to act as a strong opposition party. However, it is a big challenge for Umno as the party's image has suffered quite a blow during the recent GE14.
Another concern is how well the netizens would react to Umno's social media presence. It is likely that its efforts would not be well received since most Malaysians are now embracing the “new” Malaysia era.
Therefore, in order to regain its credibility as a worthy opposition, a lot of work needs to be done and this cannot be limited to social media alone.
Wong Chin Huat, head of political studies programme, Penang Institute
The biggest difference between PH and Umno/Barisan in social media warfare up to GE14 is that pro-PH voices are mostly volunteers, ordinary citizens, while pro-BN voices are mostly mercenaries. PH's success is therefore much due to BN's statements, actions and policies.
For Umno to emulate PH in social media warfare, it needs PH to make mistakes like BN did. There is no sign of that yet.
But if Lokman cannot recognise PH's achievements so far and believes cyber warfare can bring down PH in a year's time, then he is not emulating PH but Russia in the 2016 presidential election, which was largely what BN did in GE14.
So, he expects Umno to play the same game better now in opposition than when in government? I wish him good luck, (and Umno, too, if Lokman gets elected) for more likely than not, Umno will only invite more rejection by voters as an unrepented opposition than as a corrupt government.