While the DAP and PAS may have obediently applied for
permits to publish their newsletters, the reformasi movement has ignored such
bureaucratic requirements. Books and other publications have appeared without
printing permits and are being sold openly.
However, the hundreds of reformasi sites on the Internet to reach its
supporters have been the most effective communication tool. The Harakah
electronic version, for example, even has a web TV. In contrast, the
pro-government sites have been weak, dull and unimaginative.
It cannot be denied that the Information Ministry, through its television and
radio stations, has not been able to reach out to the public as effectively as
The reason is simple – viewership is declining because the credibility of these
stations is low. The authorities do not seem to understand that hard propaganda
material can no longer work.
On April 1, RTM was given a tall order: be credible and objective. No one can
blame the staff if they think it's an April Fool's joke.
As a government entity, the staff are expected to carry out certain directives
but leaders must understand that unless the station is prepared to be more
subtle in its approach, it will never win the trust of its viewers.
Government politicians must understand that they should give some leeway and
flexibility for such information tools to carry out their tasks in the wake of
competition from other avenues, including the Internet and cable TV.
Newspapers can ignore the Opposition but it is a journalistic sin when
statements are distorted and fabricated. One vernacular newspaper had to
apologise recently because of poor or over-zealous reporting of an event.
Age has also come into play. Keadilan's main leaders are much younger than
those in the upper echelon of the Barisan Nasional component parties. Many
Keadilan leaders are less than 40 years old.
One contributing factor of the Barisan defeat in the Lunas by-election was the
age difference of the candidates. The Keadilan candidate was 37 years old while
the Barisan contender was 59.
Previously, the Opposition had fought entirely on its own but now Keadilan has
help from outside the country. Proof of this was when then US Vice-President Al
Gore openly endorsed the reformasi movement in Kuala Lumpur.
These are new situations which the Government face. It requires fresh methods
and strategies if it wants to win back the minds and hearts of those it has
Barisan needs to reform itself to meet the people's aspirations and become a
more effective platform for greater libertarianism.
More importantly, the old guards must discard the use of communal appeal
because the Opposition has portrayed itself to be more multi-racial, at least
It does not make sense for some politicians to treat other ethnic groups as the
bogeymen in efforts to win the Malay votes. Umno's main problem is not the
Chinese or Indians but the Malay voters.
In all fairness, we must acknowledge the measures taken to restore confidence
in the judiciary. It is evident that changes are taking place.
The Barisan formula has worked so well that the opposition front has modelled
itself after the coalition, unashamedly calling itself Barisan
The DAP, for example, has even insisted that the consensus method be practised
in the opposition front to ensure that component parties have equal powers.
In the case of Barisan Nasional, all 14 component parties have equal voting
rights although Umno is the dominant party. For instance, all it takes is one
vote to stop any application to join the coalition.
Discipline within the Barisan ranks is also stronger than that of the
The framework of Barisan has already given it an edge. What it should do now is
to rejuvenate itself and allow the young to shoulder more responsibilities in
Those in their 30s should be entrusted to run the various bodies to inject
freshness, such as the setting up of Puteri Umno to woo the young.
Capable young members, with fresh and bold ideas, should now be groomed and
given the exposure to contest against opposition figures in the next general
election in 2004.
Barisan needs a new image. Umno is now perceived as a vehicle for members to
enrich themselves; there is a need to revive commitment and conviction. Even
top Umno leaders have admitted these problems, particularly the practice of
When noble goals are seen as cover-ups for abuses, then Barisan needs to relook
at itself seriously.
New situations require new strategies and that includes a rethink of our laws
and policies to suit present and future needs of our nation.