Batu Sapi By Election Promotes Use Of IT

SANDAKAN, Oct 31 – The Batu Sapi parliamentary by-election seems to be promoting what is seen as a new development in election campaigning – the use of information communication technology.

All the three candidates — Datin Linda Tsen Thau Lin of the Barisan Nasional (BN), Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) President Datuk Yong Teck Lee and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Tuaran chief Ansari Abdullah — and their party leaders and supporters are increasingly using all kinds of ICT to canvass for votes from the 25,582 voters in the Nov 4 by-election.

They are making use of the Facebook social network, personal blogs, Twitter and SMS to connect with the constituents of Batu Sapi.

Banking on ICT to garner the people’s support as well as communicate with them has caught on with politicians from both sides of the divide following the use of the so-called online social media or new media in the 2008 general election.

In the Batu Sapi constituency, located on the fringe of Sandakan town, the former capital of Sabah, thousands of young voters are thrilled to get an SMS from or to read comments on Facebook posted by politicians who have converged here to lend a hand in the by-election.

For example, one BN politician wrote thus on his Facebook account: “To our Batu Sapi voter friends … (I) urge you to vote for Tsen Thau Lin BN Calon (candidate) No. 3 on the Ballot Paper. Give our lady a chance to serve the community and Malaysia at large”.

Tsen is the widow of Batu Sapi MP Datuk Edmund Chong Ket Wah whose death in a road accident on Oct 9 has necessitated the by-election. Chong had won the seat in the 2008 general election by polling 9,479 votes in a straight fight with independent candidate Dr Chung Kong Wing who obtained 5,771 votes.

The Batu Sapi parliamentary constituency, which encompasses the two state seats of Karamunting and Sekong, has 25,582 voters, of whom 15,099 or 59.02 percent are Muslim bumiputeras, 689 or 2.69 are non-Muslim bumiputeras, 9,737 or 38.06 per cent are Chinese and 57 or 0.22 per cent are others.

Politicians from the SAPP and PKR too are using the new media to convey their message to the electorate. Both parties have their own websites where their staunch supporters in Batu Sapi and readers alike can browse what their leaders have to say.

“This shows Malaysia practises freedom of speech or press freedom which is in line with the principle of democracy. Everybody has a chance to articulate what they have in mind for the people of Sabah, especially for the Batu Sapi voters,” said a political observer.

Contrary to the perception of some politicians that there is no press freedom in the country, the observer said, the contesting parties — BN, SAPP and PKR — have an equal chance of using the media, particularly the alternative media, to propagate their respective political agendas.

“In this by-election, I notice that political parties are disseminating information to their supporters through mobile phones, email and interactive social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter to appeal to voters, especially the young ones who have access to these services.

“In fact, such social networking places as Facebook are a big fad among the educated youth and young adults aged between 21 and 49 in urban areas like in Karamunting.

“I think they probably constitute more than 35 per cent of the electorate in Batu Sapi. You can see how important the new media is. The good thing is that everybody has the chance to access this service, irrespective of political inclination,” the observer said.

Politicians, particularly from the peninsula, also praised and highly commended the level of press freedom in the print media in Sabah.

One of them said he noticed that newspapers in Sabah, like the Daily Express, New Sabah Times, Borneo Post, Utusan Borneo and the local Chinese papers, gave fair coverage to all the three Batu Sapi by-election candidates and the leaders of their respective political parties, with their pictures and statements appearing everyday and, sometimes, published on the front page as well.

“Press freedom in Sabah is very much alive. Even the opposition (parties) have no complaint. No wonder the prime minister (Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak) describes Sabah as the role model for 1Malaysia. It’s really up to the wisdom of the people to decide on the MP they want,” said the politician, adding that popular news portals such as Malaysiakini and the Malaysian Insider also provide avenues for politicians to campaign.

After six days of campaigning in Batu Sapi, the BN appears to have the edge in retaining the seat but faces a tough fight from the SAPP for the Chinese votes and from PKR for the Muslim bumiputera votes.

Lagi Berita